Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 121

1. AOTW--Saturday. A young woman driver failed to recognize the significance of the THICK WHITE LINE (indicating STOP HERE!) near an intersection, thus blocking those of us trying to turn out onto "her" road. She sat, head down, texting merrily away, presumably telling her friends she'd just won the AOTW--for sure!

2. Friday was our last trip down to Szalay's Farm for fresh corn. They're done with corn for the season (still pumpkins, etc.). Sigh. And their great corn maze.

3. Saw a very bad film last night--still can't believe it. Masterminds. Humor was virtually all 7th-grade-boys-in-the-locker-room stuff: flatulence (and more), sewers, kicks in the groin, provocative poses, etc. I'd hoped for a diverting comedy. Didn't happen. Disappointing because I like a lot of the cast members, some with SNL history (Kate McKinnon, Kristin Wiig, Leslie Jones, Jason Sudekis). Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson also disappointed. (Link to trailer for the film.) Shoulda known better.

4. I finished two novels this week.

     -- I must have read somewhere some good reviews of Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Wards' 2011 novel--a novel that I just discovered won the National Book Award for Fiction that year (which, of course, is why I originally bought it, I guess). It takes place in Florida on the eve of--and during--Hurricane Katrina and focuses on the lives of some rural poor folks--and is narrated by one of them, a teenage girl named Esch, who discovers fairly early in the novel that she's pregnant. I didn't care much for the first 3/4 of the novel, especially Ward's very evident determination to add a mythological layer to the story. Esch is reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology for school, and so, every now and then, we get some mentions of Jason and Medea and others. Over and over. I tired of it.

But she does a fine job of showing us the lives of poor African Americans in the region (Esch and her family are black--as is Ward), and we get some grim reminders of what life can be like for those who must struggle for everything--from food, to jobs, to plain respect.

The final fourth got better--thanks to Katrina, which arrives to alter everything. Property, lives, loves, hopes.

     --I also finished a current nominee for the National Book Award, Colson Whitehead's 2016 novel The Underground Railroad. Whitehead is a gifted young writer, and I've read most of his books--generally in great admiration. (I've even stolen some technique from him--like mixing pronoun number and person in a sentence; it can be very effective--and illuminating.)

Whitehead's novel is a blend of metaphor (ordinary and extraordinary) and some brutal realities. It tells the story of Cora, a young slave woman who bolts from her plantation in Georgia, is pursued by a Javertian slave-hunter named Ridgeway--relentless and brutal. On her journey Cora witnesses some astonishing cruelties (and I've read accounts of actual brutalities toward slaves; these are right in sync with them), some of which seem couched in safety (but, of course, are not).

The most imposing of Whitehead's metaphors, of course, is the underground railroad itself, which here is an actual railroad running below ground. Escaped slaves ride from station to station (most of which are very primitive). Some routes are discovered and closed. But the idea and the tunnels endure.

We see Cora travel from place to place, see her surprised and horrified and full of hope, then despair, as she follows her fracturing dream toward the north.

Except for the underground trains, the novel is not so "novel" as most of Whitehead's other works (though he does write fairly conventional novels, too--like Sag Harbor (2009)). He says that he worked many years on this, trying to get it right, and the reviews (and the awards nominations) are very impressive. But I don't really rate it as "great" Whitehead; no, it's "very good" Whitehead--which, of course, is better than much of what many other contemporary American novelists are producing.

5. Happy to be watching new episodes of Longmire (Netflix, streaming) and William and Mary (Netflix, DVD), and Portlandia (Netflix, streaming). Others are on the way, too. And Elementary returns tonight! Yippee!

6. Final words--a couple I liked this week from my various word-of-the-day online subscriptions.

     -  from dictionary.com--a word I knew in grad school--but forgot ... nice to have it back!

eristic    \e-RIS-tik\ adjective
1. Also, eristical. pertaining to controversy or disputation; controversial.

1. a person who engages in disputation; controversialist.
2. the art of disputation.

Does free speech tend to move toward the truth or away from it? When does it evolve into a better collective understanding? When does it collapse into the Babel of trolling, the pointless and eristic game of talking the other guy into crying “uncle”?
-- Mattathias Schwartz, "The Trolls Among Us," New York Times, August 3, 2008

Origin of eristic
Eristic can be traced to the Greek adjective eristikós meaning "fond of wrangling" and further to the Greek noun éris meaning "discord." It entered English in the 1630s.

     - also from dictionary.com--don't recall seeing this before!!??

understory         \UHN-der-stawr-ee, -stohr-ee\
1. the shrubs and plants growing beneath the main canopy of a forest.
Outside, in the rambling estate with its green canopies and wandering animals, its replanted indigenous understory and its old enclosures now becoming overgrown, the birds and the ground dwellers were settling to roost and sleep as they did every night when the light dimmed to a dusky blue and the earth began to cool.
-- Paddy O'Reilly, The Wonders, 2015
Origin of understory
Understory entered English in the early 1900s. Its second element, story, comes from the Anglo-Latin noun historia meaning "picture decorating a building, a part of the building so decorated," hence "floor, story."

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