Love Means Never Having to Remember

Like many people, I love books. And like many people who love books, I am almost never able to remember much of anything about the books I read. This blog features my own impressionistic non-synopses of books I've read at various points in time. If you would like to fill in additional details, please do so in the comment section. And if you'd like to contribute your OWN "Everything I Remember About. . . ," shoot it to me in an e-mail. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Everything I Remember about. . . . Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a great fortune, must be in want of a wife."

The first time I was assigned this novel for a literature class, I opened it reluctantly: Everything about it, from the female author to the pastel drawings on the cover screamed "chick book"!  Imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed it.

The story centers on the Bennett household, where five daughters pose something of a quandary for the put-upon father, as he faces the unenviable prospect of having to find husbands for them all.  The main Bennett daughters are the eldest, Jane, an all-around typical "nice girl," and the second oldest--the book's central character--Elizabeth, who is far too smart for her own good.  Jane is courted by an eminently suitable match (whose name eludes me at the moment), who is warned away from her by his good friend Mr. Darcy.  Darcy represents the "prejudice" of the title, just as Elizabeth represents the "pride"--or maybe it's the other way around, who knows.  Darcy is filthy rich, by the way, and I believe he was primarily concerned about his friend's potential victimization at the hands of gold-diggers.  His fear is primarily aroused by Jane and Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia the Idiot, who is a typical giggly schoolgirl sort.

OK, so when Elizabeth finds out about Darcy's disapproval of her family (despite the fact that she basically agrees with him about Lydia), she is understandably miffed.  When Darcy subsequently makes known to Elizabeth his own feelings for her--he is, in his buttoned-up way, smitten--she lets loose on him with what is probably one of the all-time great literary monologues.  She is withering.  He is crushed. Elizabeth is triumphant. . . .

. . . Until, of course, she finds out that Darcy has taken it upon himself to rescue Lydia from the clutches of a rakish non-gentleman officer who would otherwise have destroyed Lydia's (and by extension the entire Bennett family's) reputation.  How will Elizabeth ever express to Darcy how mistaken she was about his fundamentally good and generous nature?

Well, you know, it's a romantic comedy, so of course she does.  And Jane marries Darcy's friend, and Lydia marries the slimy soldier, and everyone lives happily ever after.  At least until the zombies attack, but I think that's in another book.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Everything I Remember about. . . . Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Sure, it's "the great American novel," but who actually reads the damn thing?  Well, I did.  They made me read it.  I didn't wanna do it.  But in my junior year of college, I took a class on pre-Civil War American literature, taught by Jane Benardete, who worked through the first 75 years of the Republic before midterms and devoted the whole second half of the class to Melville's epic.  So, here's what stuck:

The first 100 pages are actually pretty good--before the Pequod sets sail--as are the last 50, which comprise the final battle with the white whale.  Those 700 pages in between, though, will kill you.

Call me Ishmael.  (Note: Do NOT insert a comma, or the sentence becomes a desperate plea from a needy lover.)

Queequeg the harpooner, a heavily tattooed Polynesian sort.  (Also the namesake of Scully's Pomeranian in "The X-Files.")

The aforementioned Professor Benardete distributed to the class a list of about five chapters, of which students had to choose one to do a close reading.  I chose "The Cabin Table," so I remember about as much of that chapter as I do of the whole rest of the novel.  Basically, the chapter juxtaposes the mealtime activities among the common folk (the harpooners and common sailors) with those of the members of the ruling elite (Ahab, Starbuck, and the other officers).  In a nutshell, the common folk have a lot more fun.  The chapter may be read as Melville's commentary on the superiority of the democratic lifestyle to that of the aristocracy--all part of the author's attempt to celebrate the more egalitarian spirit of the new American Republic as compared to the hidebound rituals of the old ruling class.  Or something like that.

Rather a lot about ice and the color white.

Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay of the Gregory Peck film version--but I guess that's not really relevant to the topic under discussion here.

Oh, yeah, and the whale wins.