Friday, April 06, 2007

Hiatus: I didn't mean to do that.

Wow, what a month. The new and brutal semester started, and my husband came to visit me. No time to blog, and barely enough time to read. I feel so creaky, as if I've forgotten how to write! Here are the 3 books I managed to finish in March:

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I borrowed this from CanadaBoy after circling it at the bookstore for almost two-and-a-half years. Christopher, an autistic 15-year-old boy, finds his neighbor's dog dead one night, stabbed to death by a garden fork. Christopher decides to make like his favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, and solve the murder, but he inadvertently solves another mystery, about his absent mother...

Mark Haddon has written the novel in such a way that the reader can almost totally identify with Christopher, especially as he chronicles why he dislikes certain colors like yellow and brown and discusses his coping mechanisms like groaning when he's really stressed. Actually, I started to wonder how far off of autism anyone is, since most of us love routine and ritual and have quirks about many things. I also liked it that both Christopher's father and mother were fully human and flawed. Too often, there's a too-good-to-be-true parent and the other one's a complete jerk.

Three Days In That Autumn by Park Wan-Seo. A gyneocologist in Seoul spends her career performing abortions. She was a victim of rape during the Korean War, so she feels that she's performing a public service for women, although a sardonic part of her mind realizes that her available services make it easy for the sex trade in her area to proliferate. During her last three days of work before she retires, she finds herself longing for the first time, to deliver a live, full-term baby.

I bet you were wondering when I was going to introduce Korean literature into my blog. Sadly, it's long overdue. The beautiful and erudite
Literary Acquistionist has been better about it than I have; check out her excellent blog entry about another Korean novella called The Other Side Of Dark Remembrance.

The Secret Life Of The Lonely Doll: The Search For Dare Wright by Jean Nathan. Fifty years ago, a children's book with a pink gingham cover and black-and-white photographs of a doll named Edith and her adventures with her two bear friends was published and became wildly popular. I'm sure that I've never read The Lonely Doll -- if I'd known of its existence, I would've been all over a book with "doll" in the title. Somehow, though, it all seems so familiar and disturbing, like scraps of a half-remembered dream.

The author of The Lonely Doll, Dare Wright, was a talented photographer and former model. As a child, she had enjoyed playing dress-up and playing with dolls. Oddly, she never grew out of this stage, thanks in part to her mother, who,
until she died at 91, always seemed to see her daughter as a doll to be posed and dressed. As Dare grew up and became proficient with the camera, she would pose, dress, and photograph herself. She was engaged to be married at one point, but when she caught the groom-to-be in another affair, she seemed almost relieved to break it off, so as not to make that jump into adulthood. The real love of her life was her older brother. They were separated as a result of their parents' divorce for over 20 years, before being reunited by a close relative. The separation seems to have marked them both; neither ever married, and discouraged romantic relationships with other people. One of the people interviewed for the book compares Dare Wright to Blanche Du Bois, which is eerily accurate, especially when viewing the many beautiful yet strange photos in the book. Most unsettling are the ones of Dare posed as a seemingly lifeless mermaid, washed up on the beach, covered in seaweed with shells over her eyes.

I have to admit that I have helped to introduce Crocs to at least the southern part of South Korea. Yes, they are some of the ugliest shoes you'll ever see, but they're almost as comfortable as going barefoot. Since my main source of transportation is my feet, they have definitely passed the comfort test. I have three pairs: hot pink, navy blue and black. When I wore the hot pink ones out in public, I got even more stares than I usually get because I'm a foreigner, so they quickly became house slippers. The navy blue and black ones I wear to work. The colors are conservative enough that I don't get too many comments. Who looks at feet, anyway?

The "scrotum" discussion is old, old news by now, but I was thinking the other day about how Mrs. Lemmon would have handled it straightforwardly and tastefully. If anyone had dared to giggle at the definition, she would have lectured until we all associated the word with the most somber and serious of those in our 6th grade vocabularies.

Mrs. Lemmon was no malkin; she did not shy from controversy. When she read aloud The Shepherd Of The Hills, a 1907 novel by Harold Bell Wright, there was a part in which a city man that one of the hill girls loved has up and disappeared after a summer of romance. The girl and her father ride out among the hills for several days looking for the man in case he's come to harm. Finally, after a long day's search the girl says something like, "It's no use, Daddy, he's not coming back. He's gone off and left us with all the trouble." And she hangs her head. A couple of sentences later, she dies in childbirth.

All of that probably would have slid right over our heads, but Mrs. Lemmon was not content to let it slide. She wanted to make sure that we understood what the girl was saying, so after she hung her head, Mrs. Lemmon stopped reading and calmly said, "Do you understand what she means by 'all the trouble'?" Blank looks all around. "She's pregnant, and she's not married." Slight frowns and nods. She went back to reading.

I was shocked. Pregnant?! How could that be? I tried to puzzle it out. The city man had been painting her portrait all summer. Outdoors. How could they have done anything outdoors? They wouldn't have had any privacy! Unless they went into a cave...but there were no doors on a cave, so again the privacy problem. How did they manage? Gotta tell you, this baffled, bewildered and bugged me for years.


Chris said...

I know a lot of people hate Crocs but I love them. They are so comfy. Great for gardening. I have a pretty butter yellow pair.

kookie said...

Glad you are back, Bybee.

My son has one of the milder forms of autism (he is graduating this year from high school and has held a job since he was 14.) and I've always wondered, like you, if autism isn't just an extreme form of how we all actually are. I don't like my schedules changed (I just don't freak out about it like my son), and I like everything to be 'just so' (heck, I can't even take a nap unless my dishes are done). So, I think that was an excellent observation.

I loved that book, too.

Eva said...

I'm glad that you enjoyed the review. :) Lee does a great job of building up Virginia Woolf's world. I miss it, now that it's gone, so I might just have to start the Quentin Bell bio at some point!

Bybee said...

My mom has the butter yellow Crocs. They're so cute.

I was worried that my observation might be taken as too flippant. I'm glad you understood what I meant.

I'm so tempted to hunt down that biography now!

joemmama said...

Thanks for leading me to The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll. Somehow missed these books as a child, so I picked one up as well as the bio. So far I am really liking this one. The photos creep me out a little though. My Crocs are RED!!!!!