The really Great Escape
June 14, 2013
I confess that I dog-ear pages in hardback books, though only with books I own. I crack spines too and sometimes the books get wet when I read them in the bathtub. I have spilled red wine and left chocolate thumbprints on cream-colored pages. I can’t help it when I read, I am transported and lost, lost, lost in worlds I can easily imagine.
This time of year, I seem to fill the brief break in my world between intense work and more intense work with intense reading. I start after work and often fall asleep before awakening in the still-dark world and commencing reading until dawn’s early light. I read non-fiction and fiction and magazines and journals and newspapers and collections. But right now I read mostly "fat fiction." Dolly’s, here in Park City, is my dealer of choice and has been since I moved to town in 1979. I even worked there for a stint in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
When I travel, my favorite souvenirs are often books from far-away places about those places. Or that building. Or that art exhibit. My home is filled with books and I have, at any given time, dozens of books floating around town that I have finished and needed to share with friends.
In the past month I have devoured four books and I recommend them all (though for varying reasons and for distinct tastes).
"The Storyteller," by Jodi Picoult, appears to be about religion, lies, truth and the Holocaust (and the obvious storyteller). It’s about moral dilemmas and complicated answers. It takes place mostly in the present day but a chunk takes place in a concentration camp during World War II. There is a former nun and a baker and a secret garden. There is more than one love story. And more than one surprise.
"Benediction," by Kent Haruf, could be viewed as a long meditation on the end of a life of a man who has lived a long time. His children, his wife, his business associates, his neighbors all are a part of the story. Death takes its time and allows for both closure and complication. There is a glimpse at how love can endure all. And how every single death completes a circle of life how monumental and how normal that is.
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"Inferno" is the latest book by Dan Brown (author of "The Da Vinci Code," "Angels and Demons" and all those other heart-racing thrillers of discovery). More frightening than the religious themes are those of global, universal, life-threatening importance. The first third of this book seems a bit formulaic: you race along, in movie-script fashion, until you are stopped with the realization that the scariest stuff is the stuff that no one makes up and you come face-to-face with world-impacting negative realities. Of course, it being a Dan Brown book, there is also mystery, a hint of romance, art history, religious symbolism, cutting-edge technology and espionage on an international scale.
"Gone Girl," by Gillian Flynn: Love is twisted, but love gone wrong is twisted and wrapped and unwrapped with emotions that can wind in ways only intimate lovers understand. It’s another thriller, but one I didn’t see coming; this one is about wanting to be in love. Becoming someone you are not in order to win the love of another. The disillusionment of love built on such false foundations. Cheating love, which involves cheating in love. Exquisite head games that are woven with heart games. And murder. Maybe murder. Certainly deaths, though. And how insanity often appears to be quirky or odd and not so much unstable as uncertain. And once again, confirmation that no body part is as sexy as a brain used well.
Right now, I am more than halfway through "Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald," by Therese Anne Fowler, a piece of historical fiction about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s girl. The Twenties. The clothes, the booze, the words, the high life, the low life, the rapidly changing morals. The undisputed fact that literary giants are different from you and me. I have long been fascinated by the Fitzgeralds that wild, dangerous, tragic couple of humble beginnings and epic influence. "Z" shows how Zelda might have told her own story, charted her own path and knew certain mysteries before the world saw them revealed and unraveled.
Writers are strange creatures. Wildly social until they demand solitude. Imagining lives for others and trying them on often. The madness, the brilliance, the wit, the warmth, the dance with danger, the isolation, the uncharitable highs and lows, the love lived and lost and lamented. The desire to surprise and sadden and soften a heart, sometimes all in the same page.
I have been a reader all my life, though there have been periods where reading the simplest book seemed too distracting from just actually living my life in full. But it is the reflection that always comes from the reading and being lost there that allows us to take stock of the present and decide to rethink our place in relation to other people in other times who all faced the same questions of morality, compassion and the end of life. Or ending a life. And how, with just the simplest shift of a word, we can be forced to consider something greater about ourselves.
This weekend is filled with obligations and activities and general busyness. But I will steal time to go back to France in the Twenties, where Cole Porter and Pablo Picasso and ballerina Olga Khokklova are introducing the Fitzgeralds to the expat life at a cocktail party in Paris in a grand old estate where the gin is cold and the piano hot and all that jazz this Sunday in the Park.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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