"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Complete Stories of David Malouf

From the reviews I've read of Australian David Malouf's books, folks either love him or dismiss him out of hand.   I'm one of the former.  In fact, I consider him to be one of the finest writers of our time, perhaps my favorite.

Having read four of his novels, I was delighted when my brother (to whom I had introduced Malouf several years ago) sent me this volume of all the short stories Malouf had published to the date of this publication - 2007.  It is, admittedly, not an easy read.  Malouf's sentence structure can be complicated, his characters multi-dimensional and sometimes quite unappealing, his short stories vignettes that can leave you perplexed and discombobulated filled with what one reviewer described as angst.  But the writing - lyrical, magical.  Suddenly a phrase appears and I ask myself not only how he thinks that he could describe a place or a behavior with such exquisite clarity, but also how he looks at the world to see what I know I would not see.

But I don't intend to review this book here....for that, I recommend http://www.waterbridgereview.org/102007/rvw_complete.php where Abby Pollak has a thorough, well-written review.

However, if you read to learn, not merely to be entertained, if you enjoy exploring another place or culture, if you are comfortable with the discomfort of having your thinking challenged, your perceptions altered, if you can appreciate the craftsmanship of a piece whether or not you like the content, if you are intrigued with intricacies and paradoxes of the human condition, try Malouf.  And if you are already familiar with and appreciate him, The Complete Stories will not disappoint you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Gift from the Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

"she read, or rather, reread.  Chasing up old friends in the pages of her favorite books to see how she or they had changed over the years, or to discover with a little shock of affection, the earlier self who at sixteen or thirty had first been touched by them."
                                                                          The Complete Stories  ~ David Malouf

There it was, in clear and exquisite language, the reasons I've been rereading a handful of "old friends".  The most recent, Anne Morrow Lindbergh's classic, Gift from the Sea.  I first read it in the 70's, when floundering in the aftermath of a painful divorce, I read every book I could get my hands on that might offer insight, respite from the confusion and self-doubts I struggled with.  It helped significantly then and I have revisited it every decade since  - "chasing up", checking in.

Gift is a collection of meditative essays, written while Lindbergh was taking a quiet, solitary retreat from her hectic life as mother of five, wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, writer and aviator in her own right.  Using shells she collected from the beach as impetus for her reflections and as metaphors for the various stages of a woman's life, she created a slim volume that has touched and inspired generations of women.  That touched and inspired me yet again as I reread it this past week.

Has the book held up, changed?  Certainly, it is dated in some ways - originally published in l955, many of the challenges Lindbergh addresses are those of home bound women.  (In a postscript that she wrote in l975 and included in the 50th anniversary edition of the book, she gracefully and gratefully acknowledges the impact of the Women's Movement.)  However, while much of the context may be different, the issues she raised remain pertinent - the need for solitude (for men as well as women?!) in order to regain a sense of serenity and balance, the need to know oneself if we are ever to know another, the acceptance of the natural ebb and flow of life in general and relationship in particular, the value and impact of lessons learned from the simplicity of nature, the joy of creating.  And the writing itself holds up beautifully, as peaceful, tranquil and serene as the quiet beach that inspired her.

And have I changed?  Did I get a little shock of affection for the younger woman who first was touched by her musings?  Perhaps this is the greatest gift - to be able to look back and see that her words resonate more today than then.  That I am more comfortable in my own skin.  That I do take regular breaks of solitude.  That I am creating, able to say I am creative.  That for the most part, I am at peace with the ebb and flow of life.  That the young woman who first was touched by her musings was smart enough, has worked hard enough to more fully understand and appreciate the wisdom she imparted almost 60 years ago.

And smart enough to plan to read it again.