Okay, so I'm a day late with my homework. Stuff happens ...
1. AOTW: No contest this week. None. On Thursday night Joyce and I went down to the Akron Public Library to hear/see a presentation by writer George Saunders, whose first (and, so far, only) novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, has been dazzling critics and readers since it came out. Anyway, we enjoyed his presentation, and during the Q&A (as is my wont) I went out to the hall where the book-signing would occur. The auditorium was packed, so I got in line first! The Q&A took a bit of a while (25 minutes?), and just before it was over, a woman in the audience joined me. Waiting. As soon as Saunders came out and sat at the table to sign, she stepped right in front of me and got her book signed first. I was too stunned to say anything. But I also felt some satisfaction: I knew who my AOTW would be!
2. Last night (Saturday) Joyce and I watched (DVD, Netflix) the next film on our list by the Coen Brothers, whose complete films we're watching, in order. This one was The Ladykillers (2004), a wild remake of the 1955 film with Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and other notables.(Link to trailer for 1955 film.)
The story is about a diverse group of thieves (professional and otherwise), who rent a room from an old woman who lives near (in this case) a gambling casino on a riverboat on the nearby Mississippi River. (Link to film trailer.)
Tom Hanks, playing a phony Southern gentleman/hustler is the Leader of the Pack, but there are many others you'll recognize. In her basement, they tunnel over to the riverboat, where they hope to "liberate" $1.6 million.
Then ... things get crazy, and, in the Coen Bros.' hands, very funny.
The film is a collection of stereotypes--everyone in the film is one--and it's amusing to watch them collide as events take one odd turn after another. There's a dumb jock, an Asian expert in martial arts, a jive black man (Marlon Wayans), lots of African American church-goers, etc. Right on the edge--maybe even over it. But, as I said, everyone is a cliche/stereotype--black, white, Asian.
3. I finished three books this week.
- The first (see above) was George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel that deals with the death of Lincoln's little boy, Willie, and Lincoln's visit one night to the cemetery to "visit" with him. The novel is told in multiple voices--the spirits of the dead in the cemetery, spirits who can see and hear Lincoln, who cannot return the favor. Willie is among them--and misses his father horribly--and vice-versa. And the spirits, when they enter a living person (like Honest Abe), can (as I said) hear the thoughts of that person, and this is how we get to hear Lincoln's voice--through the narrations of the spirits.
At the presentation where we heard/saw Saunders last week, he had five microphones set up and had designated readers do the voices of the spirits--while he himself did Lincoln ("It's my event," he quipped).During the prepared part of his talk (before the readers joined him) he talked about why he'd focused until now on short stories. He said he'd once written a novel, early on, but his wife groaned and squirmed, so he ditched it. He also said he's not sure he'll write another novel.
I liked the book--a lot--and was very moved by Willie's realization that he was dead--and how that epiphany affected the others in the cemetery. Loss, grief, acceptance, love, regret--and so much more. (Bardo, by the way, is the spiritual space between coming and going--between death and moving on.)
When I spoke with Saunders briefly (after the AOTW had appeared and departed), I noted that my experience with Joyce--met in July, married in December--paralleled his experience with his wife. I said we were in our 47th year together; he said they were in their 30th; and he stood and shook my hand and said, "Sometimes you just know, don't you?" Yes, you do. Indeed, you do.
- I also finished a book I've been reading for a few months now, 25 pages at a clip, The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman (2017), a book from which I learned a lot about the quotidian aspects of the royal family--from clothing to dental care to, uh, bathroom practices to the sorts of servants (many servants) attending them.
I felt that Borman spent a little too much time rehearsing the history--but I guess she couldn't assume her readers would know the principal players--or the age--so she repeated a lot of what I already know. Not bragging, just saying.
Still, a fine, informative book that adds humanity to the names we all know so well--Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I. And others, of course.
- The third title was A Model World (1991), an early collection of stories by Michael Chabon; I'm on a quest to read the books of his I've not previously read. This is his second book (the first, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, I blogged about earlier), and it contains some fine stories--some of which hint at what will ensue in later volumes--novels and stories. The title story is about an academic who plagiarizes his dissertation--gets away with it--has a fine career.
The second half of the collection (approx.) comprises stories about a character (autobiographical?) named Nathan Shapiro. When we first meet him, he is a young boy on vacation with his parents and younger brother, Ricky. The parents' marriage is ending--and there's some (undeserved) guilt in Nathan's mind. In subsequent stories, we follow Nathan into his sixteenth year--his early fascinations with sex (can you imagine? a teenage boy interested in sex?); the final story deals with his first experience with a girl he's known since the days of Hebrew school--and whom he has not seen for quite a few years.
Moving stories. Quiet. And quietly told. But it is the quiet of a tumultuous subterranean river. You can't hear it; it's there.
4. A Last Word--from one of my online word-of-the-day providers:
- from dictionary.com
fanfaronade noun [fan-fer-uh-neyd]
1. bragging; bravado; bluster.
"... I'll keep it so well that it will arrive at its destination, I swear to you, and woe to him who tries to take it from me!" M. de Treville smiled at this fanfaronade ...
-- Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870), The Three Musketeers, translated by Richard Pevear, 2006
There is an unclear connection between fanfaronade and fanfare, both of which came into English from French fanfaronnade (a derivative of fanfaron “braggart”) and fanfare “flourish of trumpets” (some authorities say that French fanfare is of imitative origin). French fanfaronnade came from Spanish fanfarronada “bluster, bluff,” and French fanfaron from Spanish fanfarrón “braggart.” If French fanfare is not of imitative origin, then it could well come from Spanish fanfarria “fanfare, arrogance.” The three Spanish words are of obscure origin; they may come from Arabic farfār “talkative, loquacious.” Fanfaronade entered English in the 17th century.