Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Traumatic Fragrance

How Reading Look Homeward, Angel Got Me into Diapers

Actually, it’s more like thinking about diapers and their distinctive fragrance. A few days ago, I started reading Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. The novel gets off to a grim start and seventy-three pages later, is still chugging along the same route.

(Note to Self: Wolfe was only twenty-nine years old when the novel was published, so his excessive grimness can be excused. Everyone is grim at that age. Twenty-nine was the grimmest year I had experienced by that date. So overlook grimness in all writers under the age of thirty. They have earned it.)

Thus far, I cannot figure out the characters; there is no logical pattern that I recognize. It’s like the author has forced opposing personalities, who usually avoid one another at cocktail parties, to inhabit the same person. What I find even more disconcerting is that the infant Eugene appears to have a higher level of consciousness than the adults. He is aware of how new and strange his world is, and it terrifies him. 

Eugene is traumatized by everyday occurrences because he does not understand them—and he knows he does not understand them.  Smiling adults peering over his bassinet, tender arms picking him up, sounds of cooing from his siblings, all make Eugene’s waking world a nightmare. It’s just too weird.
However, to be fair, I thought about whether babies in general could be traumatized by innocent Life. Then I remembered the time I changed my sister’s diapers when she was a baby; I wondered whether she was traumatized by the ordeal. I was three years old at the time and was dead set on Helping Mother, however much she dreaded it.

I think my mom was outside hanging the wash when I discovered that Debbie had a soiled diaper. I felt called to the task of changing it. I vividly remember two things: One, the diaper was huge; it was like negotiating with a wool blanket. Two, feces was everywhere; like the movie The Blob, it kept growing and devouring everything in the room.

I tried to kill it with a liberal sprinkling—make that dousing—of baby powder. Powder, powder, everywhere! It didn’t work. The Baby Blob was undeterred. To this day, the fragrance of baby powder carries with it a slight hint of baby poop. I guess I was traumatized.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Gateway Books

I was Leviathan with a hook in my jaw, pulled inexorably onward by an unseen angler.
The Book of Rhino

When I read a book by an unfamiliar author that immediately engages my interest, I call it a “gateway book.” By my definition, a gateway book is one that hooks me on a particular writer. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd got me hooked on Agatha Christie; Foundation did the same for me with Isaac Asimov. Once I read that first book, that gateway book, then I chase down other books by the same author.

A gateway book is not necessarily the first book an author has written. For example, in the case of Mary Stewart, her gateway book for me was The Crystal Cave, published in 1970, sixteen years after Madam, Will You Talk?, her first novel.  Had the latter been my introduction to Mary Stewart, I would not have pursued the relationship.

I am just about to finish The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. I have a feeling that I have just found a new gateway book.

Some of my other gateway books are:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkein
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Man with Two Left Feet by P. G. Wodehouse
The Curate’s Awakening by George MacDonald

There is a glaring problem with this list. If you know about these authors, you will see that all of them, except for Philip Pullman, are dead. I’m in the sad situation of being hooked on writers who will not be writing any more books. That’s the danger of reading books by dead authors; if one of their works happens to be a gateway book, your supply of satisfying reads is finite.

I should have known better than to read Maugham—him being dead and all, but that’s the thing about gateway novels. One never knows until the reading deed is done that one has stumbled onto a gateway book. A person may innocently open its pages and find herself unable to put the thing down.
Perhaps there should be warning labels on books by dead authors.

WARNING: This book is known to instantly engross the reader in the story and characters. There is only a limited supply of books by this particular author so read it at your own risk.

In the meantime, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe looks interesting.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

It's Snow Disaster

Winter camp was located in a small valley surrounded by snow-covered hills. Skandar took one look at those slopes and decided something must be done with them. He persuaded Sir Arlan to allow him and the other boys a break from training to spend the day exploring in the hills. What he failed to mention was that they were going to take some large shields with them. Skandar had an idea: Sit on a shield and slide down the hills on the snow.

The shield worked beautifully. Its curved surface allowed the boys to sit comfortably inside, holding onto the arm straps. Skandar and his brothers had a grand time of it, sliding down the hill, toiling their way back up, and sliding down again. Then Skandar persuaded the boys to link themselves together, in a sort of human chain. So there they were, lined up on the shields, with each person holding onto the legs of the fellow behind him. Rhino, at the head,  gave a push and they all went flying down the side of the hill.

Toward the bottom of the slope, they encountered a small hummock of ice covered with snow. When they hit it, they broke free from their chain and tumbled in different directions. Skandar, Trevor, Wilfred, and Elbert struggled to free themselves from the snow, laughing and whooping in excitement. The boys regained their footing and took stock of their situation—there was no sign of Rhino! They looked around and shouted his name in mounting panic; Rhino was nowhere to be found.

“What have we done?” cried Elbert. “We’ve lost Rhino!”

“Now, lads, let’s not get in a muck,” said Wilfred. “He’s got to be around here somewhere. Here Rhino, come on, lad; tell us where you are.”

The only response to Wilfred’s call was the muted creak of tree branches shifting under their burden of snow. In the meantime, Skandar and Trevor had been combing the surrounding area for any trace of the prince.

“Whatever will we tell Sir Arlan,” Trevor fretted, who was nearly in tears.

“Brace up, Trevor. He’s here; I can feel it. We just can’t see him as yet.”
The boys continued their search, carefully scrutinizing the terrain beneath their feet and the trees overhead.

Suddenly Skandar shouted, “Over here! I see something!”

He pointed to the base of a huge fir tree. The others crowded around and looked where his finger was pointing.  There in the snow was a small object that looked like the tip of a boot. They immediately began digging around the object and in a few seconds exposed the entire boot. Heartened, the boys intensified their efforts and in a few minutes uncovered Rhino, who had been buried in the snow.

Apparently when Rhino made contact with the hummock, he sailed into the air and landed at the base of the tree. His body impacted it with such force its branches dumped their load of snow on Rhino’s head. The boys anxiously crowded around Rhino, who was trying to catch his breath. Skandar was beside himself with remorse.
“Rhino,” he said, “I am so awfully sorry. I never should have suggested such a mad scheme. Are you broken anywhere? Oh, I am such a heedless dolt! Speak to me, Rhino, please; tell me that you forgive me.”

Rhino shook the remaining snow out of his ears and drew a deep breath.
“Skandar”, he said. “You’re brilliant. Let’s do it again!”

Excerpt from The Book of Rhino

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Revealing Character

Of all the tradesmen in London the tailors are, no doubt, the most combative—as might be expected from the necessity which lies upon them of living down the general bad character in this respect which the world has wrongly given them.

Anthony Trollope ~ Can You Forgive Her?

Anthony Trollope frequently used the character of a tailor was to advance the plot of his novels. Often a scene with a tailor was to show the financial state of one of the other characters. More often than not, tailors did not get paid for their work, which is one of the reason they were despised.  It was an embarrassment for a gentleman to be in debt to his tailor; his fine clothes might fool all of London society into thinking he is rich, but his tailor knew better.

I feel sorry for tailors, both literary and real. I feel combative on behalf of all middle class men and women who are defrauded by the wealthy with whom they do business. It is grossly unfair for anyone to cheat a person out of his or her rightful earnings, but it is especially despicable when the cheater is rich and his victim is not.

One of the themes of Anthony Trollope’s novels is social inequity; he exposes the disparity that exists between the classes. The tailor is his poster child. Good for you, Mr. Trollope.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Clark and the Burial of Stumpy

 Clark hastened to his friends’ house in response to their urgent request. When he arrived, he saw Skunk and Mole earnestly staring at a large round piece of wood. It appeared to be the cross-section of a young tree.

“Oh, Clark,” said Mole, “We are so glad you’re here. We need your help. Skunk and I dug up this HUGE tree root in order to save the flowers. In doing so, we unearthed Stumpy. Now we have to put him somewhere.”

Clark looked at Stumpy; Stumpy gave Clark a look that would have unnerved a lesser cat. Clark merely scratched his ear.

“Why don’t you just bury Stumpy where you found him?”

“Oh, no, we couldn’t do that!” Skunk exclaimed. “Now that Stumpy has seen the light, it would be too cruel to send him back into the pit.”

“We want to set him in the flower bed where he can check things out,” said Mole. “But he can’t be too close to the flowers. Isn’t that right, Stumpy?”

Stumpy made no reply; his appreciative look said it all.

“Can you help us, Clark?” Skunk and Mole asked in unison.

Clark glanced at Stumpy and nodded. They understood each other. Then Clark made a circuit around the flowerbed, taking measurements and making sketches in his notebook. After a few minutes, he walked over to Stumpy, who looked at Clark apprehensively.

“Stumpy,” said Clark, “this may tickle a bit, but it won’t take long.”

He then measured Stumpy’s height and circumference. Skunk and Mole looked on anxiously while Clark made his calculations. Every so often, Mole cast a reassuring smile at Stumpy, who was the very picture of despair. After a quarter of an hour, Clark looked up and stretched.

“Done,” he said. “It wasn’t that difficult at all. I merely had to factor in the flowers’ growth rate with Stumpy’s zero growth rate.”

He drew a circle in the dirt in one corner of the flowerbed.

“Here is where you should semi-bury Stumpy,” he said. “I recommend a hole two inches deep. That way Stumpy gets plenty of sunlight and can observe things from all angles, and the flowers—originating from rather dim bulbs—will think that Stumpy is rooted like them. They won’t try to attack him.”

Mole clapped her hands.
“How wonderful! What a great solution! We knew you could do it.”

Skunk shook hands with Clark and then gave Stumpy a hug. Stumpy was understandably relieved and not a little impressed. Clark arched his back and tried to look nonchalant, but Stumpy could tell that he, too, was impressed with himself.