January 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Lewis Carroll!

In honor of Lewis Carroll's birthday (a bit belatedly, as it is after midnight), here is the second half of his poem "The Walrus and The Carpenter." I love this poem for the poem itself, but also because of its presence in the Nickelodeon film version of Harriet the Spy. I watched that movie near daily for much of my childhood, and have it to thank for my meticulous journal-keeping (and, I suspect, talent for observation/ being nosy) since then. I always wanted my own Golly to recite this with. Which is a roundabout way of wishing Lewis Carroll a happy birthday as thanks for Alice and all the wonderful things he wrote. "The time has come, the walrus said..."

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
-from "The Walrus and the Carpenter," 1872
(Artwork via)

January 27, 2010

THE BOOKSHOP by Penelope Fitzgerald

For a long time, Penelope Fitzgerald, to me, was only the writer whose books appeared next to those of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s in the shelves of bookstores or libraries. I never thought to seek her out or think anything more of her, until I was browsing a list of Booker Prize winning authors on which – spoiler alert – she appears. So, I figured it was about time to give her a real chance, and I took out the only available book of hers in my local library at the time – The Bookshop.

The Bookshop, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize (Offshore is her work that won the prize), is a little, seemingly simple book that leaves a big impact. Set in a small English town in the late 1950s, the novel wraps proof of the inherent cruelty of human nature in a deceptively light and often amusing veneer. Florence Green, a widowed resident of Hardborough for a decade, has decided that the time has come for her little town to have a bookshop, and that she is the one to bring it to them. Hardborough is not one for change, however, as Florence learns through her attempts to fix up an old house to contain the shop and introduce her community to the wonder of books. Even when the fledgling bookshop shows promising signs of life, its customers show interest only in books on the history of the British monarchy and military, not so much in works of literature like the newly-released Lolita, by that foreigner with the funny name. It is not the predictable literary interests of the town’s residents that mean trouble, however; Florence meets problematic opposition from other ends. The ‘elite’ of the town with, of course, some political pull and knowledge of obscure laws, rally against Florence for personal gain. From the time the bookshop is only an idea throughout its short lifetime, Mrs. Gamart, a society woman with her own designs for the old house, manipulates and schemes against Florence for her own ends. By the end, you are (or, I was) left screaming at the injustice of it all.

Throughout the book, Fitzgerald gently satirizes provincial life and the strict social striations of a town as small and enclosed as this. The many characters of the town, from the farmers and fishmongers to the eager children, selfish shop owners and old esteemed hermits, add their eccentricities to the unique, and often obstinate, identity of Hardborough. She excellently crafts all these characters, so that in reading them you become part of this tightly bound community and fully accept its strangeness. Even the absurdities, from the sneakily cruel behaviors of the townspeople to their unquestioned belief is the ghost (or ‘rapper’) of the old house, are quietly believable. It is a strange place, this Hardborough, that apparently has no use for a bookshop. And yet, Florence’s attempt at bringing them one remains hopeful even in spite the cruelty of her neighbors. For such a small book, The Bookshop offers some big insights into morality and human nature and provokes strong reactions. F. Scott is no longer the only Fitzgerald I’ll be searching out at bookstores.

(Cover via)

January 11, 2010

The Passing of the Year

I know I'm a week or so late, but Happy New Year! My immediate New Years resolution is step up my blog game - starting with catching up on the books I've read over the past few weeks, then making sure to write about each book I read right after I finish it. Thanks for hanging in there!

Here's to hoping 2010 brings wonderful things.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;

My fire is almost ashes too;

But once again, before you go,

And I prepare to meet the New:

Old Year! a parting word that's true,

For we've been comrades, you and I --

I thank God for each day of you;

There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

- from Robert W. Service's "The Passing of the Year"