Friday, March 7, 2008

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Sometimes I feel like such a cliche.




Case in point: I LOVE coffee shops. I love the burnt espresso perfume that drifts through the door. I love the Prozac infused air, as if when you enter this caffenated universe, all personal worries evaporate into the broader global issues. I love the instant and false comradery of the Barista and her customers. In an effort to make that effluvial connection, a drive-thru window attendant recently complemented me on my alluring cup holders. I kid you not.



I love to read in said coffee houses...to sink into their lush "reading room" atmosphere, to extract the benefit of being in a room with copies of The New York Times while I flip through Blue.Print Magazine or (Real)Simple (I don't read TNYT, I just feel like proximity makes me smarter and more well read.)

I think I would be a boring, predictable psychological study. My psyche is The Jim Lehrer News Hour with a low budget and bad graphics.


I don't have any exciting hiccups or revolutionary clinical anecdotes.


Sometimes, this is a little disconcerting. Not that I lust after interesting mental incapacities. No. Disconcerting in that I am completely predictable, perhaps having no original thoughts or opinions about parenting or religion or writing or the political temperature of the nation. I am only what I was trained up to be. A product of private school education with all of their dogma and theology seared permanently on my soft tissue.


(Where is this going? I hear you ask, and I'll tell you.)


I recently finished Wicked in the comfort of a coffee house overstuffed armchair. I closed the book and reflected on how completely unentertained I had been. The book was unanticipatedly dark and sexually explicit. Whoever read that and thought it would make a good musical?


The writing was clever and drew unexpected lines between things that are utterly unrelated. In general, this is what I look for in a good read; how many times does the author compare vagrant political notions to the art of turnip farming or geographical plots to reflections of emotional quandary.


But I was unmoved by Maguire's metaphors. (And by unmoved, I mean that while I was impressed to the point of superficial facial expression, I remained unconnected to his characters and their plight.) I felt that he created certain scenarios and used certain language for thinly veiled dramatic gain and they were largely unnecessary. For instance, he did not need to include that an Elephant goddess pissed enormously or that an army Sergeant had castrated one of his soldiers and hung him on a windmill to be disemboweled by crows.


And then, in this room of hemp-wearing, forward thinking souls with impressively hip eye wear, I wondered if I was being small minded. Was I unable to appreciate the nuances of Maguire's writing because of my upbringing and the black/white approach to life I'd been handed, in which the manual notes all situations and categorizes them as "Vice" or "Virtue."


This debate is at the heart of Maguire's novel. Is right always right and evil always wrong?


That line in the sand that separates good from bad, right from wrong, light from dark has always been thin and unforgiving. But I disagree with the idea of a line, at all, anymore. I have begun to think of life choices more in the realm of a scrolling landscape, meandering in and out of shadow and light and sand and sod and dusk and dawn...always leading somewhere.


I finished my Grande 1% No Whip Mocha and decided, that I just flat wasn't impressed by Maguire's expanded interpretation of Baum's Oz. But I have been enlightened and made to look at my personal tendencies with awareness and wakeful judgment.


My girls and I have started Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince which, oddly enough, is, a somewhat more benign continuation on this subject, looking for light in the dark heart, challenging one's stubborn ideas of right and wrong. I have also started Three Cups of Tea.

What's on your night table?

24 comments:

Sober Briquette said...

The last time I sat down in a coffee shop, two men in their early 50s were debating economics. One said that there should be a tally of all the resources in the entire world, then pay off the national debts of every country and...
The guy was sitting behind me and it took all I had not to turn around and gape. The other fellow with him just kept nodding and agreeing. Obviously he'd realized he was chatting with an escapee...

I take mine to go.

carrie said...

I managed our little local coffee shop for a few years right up until our daughter was born and I can't tell you how accurate your description was . . . right down to the aroma. Oh, how I miss that!

And how I wish I had time to sink into one of the chairs there and read a good book. Three Cups of Tea is on my shelf - just sitting there waiting to be read. Maybe now I'll start it!

flutter said...

just fyi Wicked the musical? NOTHING like the book.

The musical was wretched.

Bon said...

um...i think Baby Duck and the Fuzzy Blanket is sitting on top of some less-frequently opened Derrida. and a Timothy Findley.

Julie Pippert said...

Well I put up a photo of my nightstand. I'm still working through Bridge of Sighs, which I might spend the rest of my year on...just because I can't stand the idea of it *ending.*

I *did* like Wicked, despite it being slightly overclever.

And I loved this, "I don't read TNYT, I just feel like proximity makes me smarter and more well read."

I hope for air-transfer version of osmosis with knowledge-packed things like that, too.

Alpha DogMa said...

I don't read TNYT, I just feel like proximity makes me smarter and more well read made me laugh out loud. My husband and I recently pared down our book collection by vowing to get rid of books we'd never read or didn't like, but kept around cos it made us look brainy to be in possession. Hence we purged most of the books left over from my lit degree.

At present I'm reading from Louise Rennison -- her stuff is YA, but so clever and funny that I can't resist. But sometimes I do read big books with big words and big thoughts. Sometimes. Not often.

Magpie said...

I never go to coffee shops, but I love the Times - but then, it's the local paper...

I'm working my way through a huge stack of books. Right now, I'm reading The $64 Tomato. Funny. It makes me happier than ever that we joined a CSA instead of trying to grow our own stuff.

Christine said...

never read wicked, but no i have NO desire at all.

Running on empty

Hannah said...

Have never read Wicked, almost picked it up last week... I'm kind of glad now that I didn't. I honestly find that since Isaac was born, I just don't have the patience? fortitude? brains? to handle most books that I "should" be reading.

On my night table right now, let's see - ah. "Spongebob and the Princess", Standard of Honor by Jack Whyte (which is very disappointing, incidentally), and a chocolate bar.

Check back with me in 10 years when the kids are older. ;)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

There are no new ideas, Emily, just new frames to put them in.

night table:

The WHEEL OF TIME series, STORY, a couple of Terry Pratchetts, House Beautiful, crits for my fellow critters, and stories for ElectricSpec. Always and ever more, stories for ESpec. (Thank God.)

Lori said...

I'm reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. A far cry from "Wicked" wouldn't you say? :)

Oh, I am so far from being an intellectual that I don't even try anymore. Osmosis hasn't worked for me. But you... I don't buy it for a minute. I know you are brilliant.

painted maypole said...

i enjoyed Wicked, although I do think you make very valid points about lots of the book! And i really disliked the sequel, Son of a Witch. I have the soundtrack but haven't seen the musical, but I know the ending is completely changed.

I'm still reading Emma. slowly, obviously. ;)

Furrow said...

I miss the coffee shop that I used to go to in college. It was full of people who were full of crap, and occasionally I was one of them, but I was 20 and it was okay.

I should read Three Cups of Tea. It's the selection for next year's entering freshman class at the university where I work. The author(s?) will come speak at convocation.

Lisa b said...

I don't even like coffee but I love coffee shops in the way you describe.
I just read Schulyer's Monster and loved it but I've got a kid with some similar issues so maybe that's just me.

sethy said...

I am indeed going to be updating about my trip to SXSW, so watch out all week, I'm going to try to update daily if I can.

I'm currently reading My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, it's way awesome. Before that I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being Which I feel was brilliant in composition and presentation but geez louise did it ever bum me out.

I love you, I gotta pack!

Mad Hatter said...

I haven't read Wicked but I have read two of Maguires fairy tale adaptations: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and whatever the hell the Sleeping Beauty one was called. I found them intriguing but ultimately forgettable.

As for coffee shops I seldom frequent them now that I have a kid. I must, however, simply must, do the family's taxes every year while sitting in a coffee shop with a Grande half-sweet vanilla latte.

NotSoSage said...

It's funny...but Mad's description of Maguire's books is exactly how I felt about Wicked.

My night table? Two books right now: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the first Jasper Fforde book about Thursday Next, The Eyre Affair.

Will you pleasepleaseplease tell me the name of your brother's band? I'd love to see him while I'm here, if I can. You can e-mail me at notsosage[at]yahoo[dot]ca. And I will certainly check out the coffee shop you mentioned.

niobe said...

I pretty much live in coffee shops. For almost exactly the same reasons you described with such clarity.

slouching mom said...

let's see...anne tyler's ladder of years.

since you asked.

you're a lovely writer, emily.

Christine said...

just miss you, that' all. hope all is ok.

Running on empty

Stella said...

how insightful! your conflicted review almost makes me want to read this book just to compare notes...

Beck said...

I wasn't a fan of Wicked, either - post-modern morality leaves me chilly.
On my nightstand? A big ol' stack of Agatha Christie novels. I am a creature of extreme habit.

Bea said...

"Unmoved" is exactly the word for my response to Wicked.

Maternal Mirth said...

MY GOD! How did you even make it through that book??? You are my hero. Well, this week anyway ...

:) M&M