As They Say about Acid


Yeah, I'm back.

I got home Wednesday night. The journey home was, as they say about acid from time to time, a bad trip. Flight patterns were screwed up at the Salt Lake airport for some reason no one ever bothered explaining to me so although we boarded on time and shut the door on time and pulled away from the gate on time, we then sat on the tarmac for 55 minutes (the captain specified that it was 55 minutes) waiting for our turn to take off, waiting and waiting and then waiting some more as if waiting were a perfectly normal thing to do in an airplane. Fortunately I have a gift, a very fortunate gift indeed, and even a strange one, in light of the fact that in a bed I am prone to insomnia, and my gift is this: I always fall asleep on planes. I am so disposed to falling asleep on planes that I get sleepy just waiting to board one. So I slept while we waited for our plane to take off, even though I had slept a lot the night before and it was only ten a.m., too early really to be sleepy.

My plane and I should have landed before 3 p.m. eastern daylight saving time but we did not land until after 4 p.m. I had not flown in or out of my local airport because it was too expensive; instead I flew out of a bigger spiffier airport two hours away because it was cheap AND a direct flight to SLC, but that meant I had to pay seven bucks a day to park my car at some godforsaken parking lot. And after I picked up my luggage and took a shuttle back to my car in that godforsaken lot I discovered that my battery was dead; it was dead because I had left my lights on for an entire week, a terrible mistake and one I have not made since automakers started including that little bell that goes off when you leave your lights on. I don't know how I missed it but I did somehow last week when the shuttle driver was waiting impatiently for me to get my stuff together and get out of my car and get on the shuttle and go to the airport.

At least the shuttle/parking people had jumper cables and they were able to start my car. But everything had been timed just right to ensure that I hit rush hour traffic and there was a lot of it. And there was also a lot of construction on the highway between the airport two hours away and my house. And when I got home from this bad trip I was so cranky that for the next four days I could scarcely do ANYTHING except think about how much I hated flying, notice that my house really needed cleaning (eventually I talked myself into cleaning it), read Pride and Prejudice for the 18th time (because it is the best book in the whole world), and knit.

Yeah, knit. I have been knitting a lot. I am in love with knitting. I am currently making a green cardigan/jacket thingy and a pair of red fingerless gloves. I will write more about this soon. I sort of even plan to post pictures.

Sunday morning at about 4:30 I finished Pride and Prejudice for the 18th time because I was in my bed and not on a plane and that meant I couldn't sleep even though I had two shots of a vodka and a Benadryl and then that meant that when I went to bed Sunday night I had to read something else, so I picked up The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein because that is what I had chosen as the book to read on the airplane when I wasn't sleeping.

tAoABT was the last of the big important books I had to read to prepare for teaching this semester and I saved it for last because I suspected strongly that I wouldn't like it but lo and behold I was wrong, very wrong. Once after a movie we really liked (though I don't remember what it was) Saviour Onassis and I observed that we could tell when a movie was really good because when we walked out of it, we couldn't help talking like the characters in it. As opposed to a movie that was really bad: then we would choose to talk like the characters but we would do it as mocking, as a deliberate invocation of the accidental artifice we had never ceased to be annoyed by, as in the case of Shakespeare in Love which we saw together and HATED, how we HATED that movie, the script was lame and obvious and contradictory and the characterization lame and obvious and unconvincing and Gwyneth Paltrow just plain sucks.

Using that same reasoning and logic I am attempting to convey how much I to my surprise loved tAoABT because I find myself totally captivated and affected by Gertrude Stein's sentences, they are very moving and effective sentences, and I want to copy them. Trudy (as I prefer to call her, not Gertie; Gertie rhymes with "dirty" but Trudy rhymes with "beauty") has completely captured my thinking heart and despite my fervent loyalty to conventional punctuation I feel a shitload of run-on sentences and comma splices piling up inside me and needing to spill forth. I not only want to write like her, I want to read everything else she has ever written, or at least look all the titles up in the library catalogue and order the books so they can sit on the shelf in my office and make me feel hopeful.

We'll see where this heads.

So you've just read an entry that's not about Mormons or Mormonism or how fucked up and fucked-upping Utah is. Enjoy it while it lasts! I might try to postpone the diatribe against the weirdness that my annual pilgrimage to "Zion" always unleashes in my life, since I wrote about precisely that before I left, but it will occur sooner or later, I can guarantee it.

In the meantime, before posting again, I am going to try to get caught up on YOUR blogs, which I have shamefully neglected. Pardon me. I really was too cranky to leave comments much worth reading, and I knew I wouldn't respond properly to much that I read.

But really, Trudy has cheered me up and I will try to read everything with the same delighted surprise and gossipy happiness (the woman knew everyone! Everyone wanted to know her!) her sentences aroused in me.


Welcome home! I appreciate reading about your efforts to find antidotes and cures for travel sickness. I usually just sulk until it goes away -- not a very satisfying practice.

I am a little bit surprised at how much you enjoyed Gertrude Stein. Your writing is so clean and unforced. I do admire the writers who experimented with tearing the form of language apart to see what could be expressed when the language itself was no longer suppressing -- such as Joyce, Beckett, William S. Burroughs. Burroughs in particular asserted that the operating codes in language were remote control devices to keep people in line. However much I admire these experimenters, though, they are not always much fun to read. I can't say this for Joyce -- I've never managed to finish Ulysses -- but for the other two I always wondered what a good editor might have done for them. After all, Virginia Woolf was also an experimental writer who nonetheless managed to write elegant prose. Anyway, I'm glad you are enjoying "Trudy"; maybe I'll revisit her some day.

I like Pride and Prejudice too. It's one of the only novels I've read more than once.

I just went back and read your Austen blog archive.

I had been kind of wondering why I liked this book so much, and some of your remarks make it a little clearer: straight-forward prose with a focus on the characters and their interactions; smart treatment of complex interpersonal relationships.

I like your analysis of the book, particularly compared to the film (which sounds like a total disaster -- I'll be sure not to watch it).

I don't know if you've read my one blog entry on Pride and Prejudice. You're probably not too thrilled that I'm inviting you to read such a thing considering how many student papers on the book you'll be obligated to read soon... ;^)

However, it's one of my most googled blog entries, and from the looks of the search queries, I would guess some of the searchers are students writing papers. So you might end up reading a variant of my essay from one of your lazier students this semester... ;^)

Welcome home Holly. You know the flight was delayed while they finished watching an advance bootleg of Snakes on a Plane in the cockpit.

Watch the video on my Catherine Tate post and know that I walk around doing the poorest imaginable imitation but that I think I sound just like her and the rest of the characters.

I haven't read any Gertrude Steinher books but am busy enjoying Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions.

Again, welcome back

Hi Spike--I am also surprised at how much I enjoyed Trudy's work. I thought I wouldn't like her. I hate a lot of the other modernists (though I love Virginia), and I can't stand language poetry, and Trudy is their patron saint.

But it was just good. We'll see what happens when I try her other work.

Hi CL--Unfortunately I WON'T be reading any student papers on P&P--that's not a book I'm likely to teach any time soon, because it's outside the range of what I typically teach. I just reread it for pure pleasure--the intellectual equivalent of comfort food.

Dale I am a big lame-o at home and rely on dial-up, so I can't watch your video until I go in to campus, where I have a nice fast connection. But at least now I have a reason to look forward to a trip to the office.

I'm glad you are back from that evil place.

You've read P&P 18 times? Were you engaging in hyperbole or are you "for real"?

I've actually read P&P a modest 3 times, but that is 2 more times than any other man I know, so its got to count for something, no? I even entertained thoughts of naming my daughter Elizabeth Bennet Thurston, but my wife, while a P&P admirer, wasn't sure she wanted a daughter named "Elizabeth". We compromised and Elizabeth became her middle name.

Hi Matt--

I was not trying to engage in hyperbole when I said I had read Pride and Prejudice 18 times--I was trying to offer what I think is a reasonable guess. (Honestly, it might be more. I've lost count. And I guess I should admit that it might only 17. In any event, it's close to 20.) I read it for the first time in high school; I read it for the third and fourth time on my mission (I had permission from my mission presidents to read novels on P-day, and I commented in my journal after each reading that the novel was so very, very good that it was all I could do not to get up the next day and start reading it again). I've taught that and other Austen novels in several different courses. As I say in a previous comment, it's the intellectual equivalent of comfort food for me. I read it (or Emma, or Northanger Abbey, or Persuasion) when I feel cranky and/or feel I deserve a treat and/or just want to be entertained, the way other people read hack mystery novels or sci-fi. I have passages of P&P memorized. Sometimes I'll just reread Darcy's first proposal, Lizzy's rejection and Darcy's subsequent letter just to cheer me up. I really dig it.

When I started my PhD program I entertained the notion of becoming an Austen scholar--but it would have taken me forever because there is so much to read: there is more criticism published about Austen than about any other writer in English except Shakespeare. I've read all of Austen's other stuff at least half a dozen times. I've even read Mansfield Park so many times that I've persuaded myself to love it, and that's a big deal because I really HATED MP my first time through it.

And you are right: it's not a book most men read more than once--and often they read it that one time under duress. (I've taught it. I know.) Still, there is that special class of man, and I am glad to know that you are one such, who notices that it's a really great love story with some pretty studly dudes in it--there's plenty there to appeal to straight guys who like smart, independent women, if the guys are willing to focus on the psychology and not get bogged down with the stuff about balls and husband-catching. I wish more men would notice that.

p.s. I have a niece named Elizabeth. It's a good name. All the pseudonyms in my book about my mission are from Austen novels--one mission president is "President Gardiner" (the benevolent uncle from P&P), for instance, and the other is "President Bertram" (the authoritarian but not entirely unlovable patriarch of Mansfield Park). The ZL who flirted with me inappropriately became "Elder Churchill" (after the guy in Emma) and my trainer became "Sister Bingley."

How fun! I seriously love talking about books, and Jane Austen is one of my favorite subjects. I've read Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility. I haven't read Northanger Abbey, and I don't think I've read Emma, though I'm so familiar with the story it feels like I have. I credit my Mom, a lifelong Austen fanatic, for turning me onto her for the first time (in high school). She has several rare volumes of Austen I hope to inherit some day.

As for why I like Austen... Well, I could care less about studly dudes. First, like Austen, I love to watch people, figure them out, see what makes them tick, and Austen's insight into people is just razor sharp. Second, I love great writing, and Austen's prose just jumps of the page. Third, I love headstrong, independent women. Fourth, I loathe most all romantic stories, so when I find that rare, great romantic story (and all of Austen's novels qualify), my heart -- usually so cynical and skeptical -- leaps for joy.

On a somewhat related note... I'm also a big fan of Patrick O'Brian. I bring that up because his work is sometimes described as "Jane Austen, for men". O'Brian died a couple of years ago. His "Aubrey/Maturin series" of 20 books is *my* equivalent comfort food. The series takes place during the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s and follows the adventures of Jack Aubrey, a naval captain, and his surgeon/friend/spy Steven Maturin. Peter Weir directed a movie a couple of years ago based on parts of the series called "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. The film was good, but like Austen film adaptations, it cannot capture the full flavor of Patrick O'Brian. It also focuses mostly on the adventure and/or heroic aspects of the story. That's fine, of course, but much of the charm of the novels has to do with the conversations, the game of manners, the social thrust-and-parry that happens in the sitting rooms... that feel and read very Austen-ish. I've often thought of O'Brian as telling the other side of the story, what happens when Captain Wentworth (from Persuasion) goes to sea, and Wentworth's take on what happens when he is on shore. If you are interested in checking out O'Brian someday, I'd recommend "Post Captain", the second book out of twenty. It is the most Austen-ish of the bunch, and you don't need to read the first to understand the second.

Finally, my few novel-reading experiences in Taiwan on my mission include The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. (I think I might have read a couple of other Pearl Buck novels as well.) Since reading for fun was so rare (and taboo) during those two years, both The Sun Also Rises and The Good Earth stood out for me like rare oasises in a long, hot, and dry desert. I've since read 2-3 other Hemingway novels and found them to be from average to poor. I now wonder if The Sun Also Rises is the exception -- a great novel, as I remember it to be -- or an average novel that seemed great given my "thirsty" circumstances in a desert devoid of novels?

Hi Matt–

Actually, I have a thing for naval history, particularly the heyday of the British navy. I love visiting working replicas of big sailing ships. Several people have recommended O'Brian to me, and I plan to read him eventually, though perhaps not until after I get tenure. I don't have much time for leisure reading. I read so much for teaching and research--at least a book a week during the school year--that when it comes time to relax, I usually choose something that doesn't require me to look at words on a page--gardening, or sewing, or tv or film adaptations of great novels. I thought the Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World thing was OK--I'm not much of a Russell Crowe fan. What I LOVED, however, were the various Horatio Hornblower episodes done for British television--Ioan Gruffudd is a total babe!

Northanger Abbey is worth your time: it was Austen's first novel, but published posthumously. It's a satire of the gothic novel, and funny enough if you're attuned to Austen's language. And don't forget Lady Susan, the epistolary novella. The title character is beautiful, evil and although some of her most dastardly plots are foiled, she gets away with plenty. The book is unlike anything else Austen wrote, and you can read it in an hour or two.

I read some pretty good stuff on my mission: Out of Africa, the short stories of W. Somerset Maugham, Picture of Dorian Gray, The Great Gatsby. And my second mission president insisted I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, because it would explain Buddhism to me. That was perhaps the most important book I read in terms of its effect on me, and I loved it at the time, but when I tried to read it later, I just thought it was crap.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 21, 2006 12:44 AM.

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