Saturday, November 26, 2011

How to Read Little Women

I read Little Women every year—sometimes twice a year, sometimes even more. It’s just another one of my quirks, I guess, that I find a 19th century parable about how to be a good little woman so entertaining and memorable.

Because that’s what it is, right?

I’ve read countless blogs and reviews and NPR stories in which women re-read Little Women as adults and say, “Jeez, what did I ever see in this?” And their daughters think the same thing. On the surface, I think they’re right. Little Women seems to be nothing more than “moral pap,” as Louisa May Alcott herself described it. But is there more to it? I think yes.

And so, in the spirit of my best friend Ale, who is currently blogging about her misadventures with existentialism while reading The Stranger, I will be blogging about why Little Women is more than just "pap" as I re-read it for the hundredth time.

Seriously, this might be the hundredth time. I never really started counting, but if the poor beat-up copy I have could talk it would probably recite a list of every time it cringed in fear as I picked it up and tossed it in my backpack, my carry-on, or that little pocket in back of the car's front seat.

Anyways, that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t expect brilliance or PhD style insight; I just want to read it in a new way and see what I find. Maybe I won’t find anything at all and I’ll end up assigning meanings to things that are really not meant to be anything but themselves, like all of our elementary school Lit teachers seemed to do. I promise to try not to; nothing is as annoying as calling a slipper a symbol of housewifeliness or something equally ridiculous when the slipper is, in fact, just a slipper.

Now, I had the ridiculously romantic notion of starting my hundredth rereading during the first (real) snowfall of the season, but this won’t work because a) that might take a very long time to get here, considering the fact that it’s 62 degrees out today and is supposed to stay in the 50s and high 40s for a while, and b) when it’s snowing I will probably want to be outside catching snowflakes on my black gloves again and marveling at the fact that ice is falling from the sky, not to mention that once it snows enough there is a prime sledding hill right outside of my dorm. So maybe when the temperature hits the 30s I’ll start it off.

Ok, enough of me sounding like a lunatic.

Whatever the case, Little Women is, in my opinion, a book best enjoyed snuggled up in a blanket with the heater turned up and a cup of tea in hand— or in this case, a notebook.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sartorial Habits of New England Natives

When I checked the weather last night, it said it would be 33 degrees outside today. Add in the wind chill factor, and it was supposed to feel like 23 degrees, so I made sure I had everything ready ahead of time: snow boots (because the insulation in these things is awesome), long sleeved shirt, super warm jacket with fuzzy faux fur collar (it's not tacky, I promise!) and knee high socks to go under my jeans. I was feeling like a pretty good New Englander-- I mean, I had this layering thing down.

My first mistake, though, was when I walked outside and thought, "Oh, this is 23 degree weather? Jeez, I can handle this!" Because then the wind picked up, and then I immediately stuffed my hands into my pockets to yank on my gloves. The wind is no joke out here, people. It's icy-- I look like I'm crying when I'm walking to class because it makes my eyes water so much.

My second mistake was thinking that layering was the way to go. Silly me! People here don't layer, apparently. They just put on a sweatshirt. I got on the bus, and the first person I saw was some show-off New Englander in a North Face windbreaker and boat shoes-- minus socks-- reading the Globe in the back corner. There I am looking like a penguin, and there he is casually reading the paper, completely oblivious to the fact that it may as well have been 23 degrees outside.

It doesn't bother me-- why should it? I just thought it was another example of the classic New Englander. He may as well have been saying, "What, you think this is cold? Wise up, California, or you'll be frozen solid by February." That's how it usually goes. If it's raining out, I've got an umbrella and almost every else is in shorts and a baseball cap. If it's cold out, I've got gloves on and my Bostonian friends are shaking their heads at me. I think it's going to take a blizzard to get these people to acknowledge the fact that it is wicked cold outside and bundle up.

And I thought New England prided itself on its sensibility.

But then again, maybe I'm the insensible one. Maybe they've got this whole seasons thing down to such a science that they know exactly how many layers to add for each ten degrees the temperature drops. Maybe I've got a lot more to learn that I thought-- but hey, it's all part of the adventure. By the end of this, I will be able to present you with my scientific findings on the subject of the sartorial habits of New England natives.

Ok, so maybe I'll just be able to present you with chattering teeth and frozen ears. But I'm hoping for the former.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rain, rain, go away-- for now, at least.

If there's anything I openly despise (besides mathematics of any kind), it's rain. Especially rain falling on my head.

Anyone who's walked through it with me can tell you that I huddle under my umbrella, I splosh through puddles in rainboots, I always have a raincoat buttoned up to my chin. I really, really hate rain.

Bostonians, however, have no such aversion. People on my campus don't use umbrellas or raincoats-- in fact, it's not unusual to see hordes of people walking around in flip flops. I never understood how they managed, so imagine my complete dismay at suddenly being forced to become one of them today after my second class.

Rule #1 of New England is to always check the weather in the morning. But seeing as I stayed up until 2 last night to play pool with my roommate and her friends, checking anything other than the charge on my laptop this morning was not going to happen. Ok, I knew it was going to rain today regardless; the 5 day weather forecast said so. But somehow that detail managed to escape my attention, and now I find myself in wet Keds (now a lovely shade of grey around the toes), a thin trench coat that is almost soaked through, and dots of water on my glasses.

On the one hand, this is all very Bostonian of me. On the other hand, I despise rain. I'm getting used to it, but right now I'm staring out the window of my classroom at the sheets of cold sliminess falling outside and shudder to think that in two hours, I'll have to go face it--unless, of course, it stops raining, in which case I will be rather happy.

In other news, the doom and gloom is back in town, and THAT I can handle. Gloomy weather is great weather for reading Louisa May Alcott thrillers-- if I had the time for them. Newspaper articles and general goings on about campus are keeping me busy, not to mention the fact that my dorm room gets messy all too quickly and needs a good pick-up every single day.

Speaking of cleaning, will a bleach pen work on Keds?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hello Again

So I haven't posted anything in a very long time. In fact, I haven't written anything in my own journal in a long time. College does crazy stuff to your head, people. Actually, it doesn't, it just steals all of your time. And energy. I seriously contemplated going back to my dorm to sleep in between classes today, despite the fact that that would require taking the bus, which in turn requires more energy than just sitting in the little lounge-y place right by the cafeteria.

Anyways, college. It's pretty much what I expected, I guess. I think what I didn't expect was the level of independence. Last week I took the T to Harvard Avenue--which is VERY sketchy at night--by myself to meet up with some friends for dinner. Naturally, I could hardly handle it. I'm so used to NOT being allowed to do things that now that I can quite literally do whatever I want, I have such a hard time. But I managed to get there in one piece (with much help from my best friend, who is my friend because she puts up with all of my craziness like this)and felt pretty good about myself. Ok, so I had a little panic-attack, but the fact that I got on the subway in the first place was a big deal.

Last night I stayed up until one a.m. (which is why I'm so tired) because my roommate was going downstairs to the lounge to play pool with one of her friends, and I decided I'd go along too. Why not? I had no homework left, I'd finished studying for my test--it was already 11 and I should've been going to sleep, but whatever. It was one of those times when I thought to myself, "Hey, I'm in college. I can go out and do something whenever I want, because there is nobody here to tell me not to." It's the little things that are mattering a lot to me.

On a different note, last week it snowed over here--even the locals were up in arms over it. It wasn't much, but it was October and nobody expected it. I loved it. I always tell people that I love snow, and they all roll their eyes and say, "Sure you do. Come talk to me in February when you've gone through a real New England wintah and then we'll see how much you love snow!" But I seriously don't think I'll get tired of it any time soon.

So that's that for now, I guess. Hopefully I'll have the time to post at least once a week from now on. I realize that this is all a bunch of very un-creative rambling, but oh well. I'll start worrying about making sense after I've had some coffee. A lot of coffee.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems

Yesterday was not a fun day.

When I woke up, the first thing I felt was a nice ache in my foot. That's because when I went for a jog the day before in the little woodsy area behind my dorm, I tripped on a rock and tweaked something in my foot. So I woke up not very happy. And then, brilliant person that I am, I wrote down my home phone number instead of my cell number on a job application...let's just say things aren't looking too good in terms of employment now.

At the end of the day all I wanted to do was read a good book. Do you ever actually crave a book? I do. Some people go home and all they want to do is eat some ice cream and go to sleep. Yesterday all I wanted to do was go to my dorm and read some Emily Dickinson. Yes, I'm a dork. That's what this blog is about: literary dorkiness and how awesome it is.

Lucky for me, my roommate is taking a class on poetry, and even luckier, one of her textbooks is a flimsy little thing called "Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems." She doesn't need it for a while, so I borrowed it and took it with me today to read in between classes.

I think the last time I sat down to read a book for fun was when I read Bel Canto right before I took off. That was a good read, but there's always something totally comforting about reading a book where you already know what's going to happen, when you know it so well that all you need is a little prompting and you can remember exactly what happens in a chapter or, in the case of Emily, read a first line and know exactly what the last one is before you even turn the page. So today I sat in the common room outside the bookstore and read for an hour before I had to go to class, and it was the best idea I've had in a while.

Sometimes when I read all of the words start to blur, and I finish a page without even knowing what I just read. That happened today, but it was ok because I just felt what they meant. It's weird to say, but it's true. You can look at a painting and know it's a Degas just because of what the paint looks like; it's the same with Dickinson. I can read a stanza and I know it's her writing-- it's that unequivocal style and the random dashes and line breaks that remind me what I'm doing when I get eaten up by comfy chairs and incessant thinking.

So today has been a better day, partly because my foot isn't quite so annoying (though I do still hobble around like a viejita after I have to brave the staircases), and partly because I got to take an hour off and just do something that I know. It's like sitting in your favorite place in the world-- when you're there you're fine, and when you leave, you know everything will still be fine because you're taking a piece of that place with you for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mini Book Review!

So I just finished reading Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. And all I can say is, "WHAT DID YOU DO THAT FOR, ANN??"

It goes like this: The President of an unidentified South American country wants Mr. Hosokawa, a businessman, to build a factory in said Country. So he throws Mr. H. a big birthday party and invites all kinds of international dignitaries, including Roxane Coss, the opera singer that Mr. H. adores more than anyone simply because of her singing. Roxane reluctantly shows up and sings a few arias, and everyone is happy until a bunch of terrorists (mostly kids, under the command of a few adults) quite literally fall from the sky and take over the party. They want to kidnap the President, but alas! the President is at home watching his novela instead, and the only one there is the VP. So to avoid looking like total failures, the terrorists decide to take everyone hostage anyways. Four months later, everyone is still there. The terrorists and hostages are actually friends-- waaay more than friends, in some cases.

The novel is very nicely written. The narration stays in third person the whole time, he said/she said etc., but shifts every so often to another character's perspective. A lot of the time it's Mr. H.'s translator, Gen, who speaks every language imaginable and is therefore the only way for the hostages, negotiators, and party guests to talk to each other. What I liked was that each character was incredibly distinct, even the numerous terrorists. You'd think it would be difficult to tell Ishmael from Cesar from Benjamin, but Patchett gives each one such a unique personality that it's easy.

A lot happens within the four months: like I mentioned, people fall in love, but they also make friends, learn new things (like how to play chess and speak Spanish), and learn a lot about themselves. If there's a moral to the story, it's that time is all relative. When the days are spread out like leaves on a palm tree, time is long. When you realize that your days have always been numbered, time takes on a frantic, now-or-never feel. It all depends on what you want to do with your time.

The book is funny at times, serious at others, and always thought provoking; the kind of book that you hesitate to close the covers on. When Patchett describes Roxane Coss singing and how it affects all of the other characters, it's impossible to imagine that such a person didn't exist; she is only a collection of other singers, she borrowed other people's hair and eyes and confidence.

Eventually I looked at how many pages I had left and realized that the happy-go-lucky thing the terrorists and "hostages" have going on can't last until the end. They don't live there in the Vice Presidential mansion forever, even though some want to, so it has to end somewhere. It's clear that neither the terrorists nor the government want to give in, so something big has to happen.

And boy, does it.

The big dénoument is what left me screaming at the book (and Anne Patchett) "WHAT DID YOU DO THAT FOR???" Because it just doesn't make sense why it had to end that way. Nothing could be perfect, but it didn't have to be so far from it either.

Aaaaand I've probably given too much away, so I'll end here. If you get the chance, read it. It's a fantastic book.

Monday, August 8, 2011

If You Give a Sam a Cannoli

Once my dad and I went on a search for the perfect notebook. I don't remember why; he needed a notebook for something and I just plain wanted one, as I often do. So one school night--I think it was a Wednesday-- at 7 0r 8, after dinner, we decided to go to Borders and look. It was like going out for dessert, only this time of a literary sort.

We checked the store closest to home first but didn't find it. He was looking for something very specific and so was I, and I think it's funny that even though neither one of us told the other that we were looking for a hardcover black Moleskine, we both knew that that was what we were out for. So we checked the clock and decided we had one more stop in us before we had to get home to bills and homework and kept going.

I remember laughing in the silence of the car just because the whole thing was ridiculous. Here we were, following our treasure map in what felt like the middle of the night, when we were supposed to be home and working. School nights were not made for playing authors.

The second stop was the charm, thankfully, and in the tiny revolving display on the counter by the cash registers we found them. I ended up settling for the soft cover blue books instead, solely because I'd be getting three notebooks to write in instead of one. I've always been that way-- get more for your money, even if you don't know what to do with the more. But either way, we both went back happy and talked on the way home, and my dad's hardcover book went to work and back with him every day and mine (most of mine) stayed at home in the clear plastic bin upstairs labeled "Small Notebooks."

If there's a point or a moral to the story I haven't found it yet; I have no idea why I'm deciding to post this. If I had the energy I would fluff it up more and weave in all kinds of lacy metaphors and images. Maybe I could turn it into a short story one day. For now the point is that there are two cannolis defrosting on the kitchen counter right now, which reminded me of the notebook trip, another thing that no one was interested in except for my dad and me. It's like those If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books, where one thing triggers a memory of another thing and another and another. Maybe the point is that if I think hard enough, I actually remember a lot.