One of my friends is working as a teaching assistant in a course I TA’d a couple years ago: Literature of Trauma and Recovery.  And when the course was starting out she and I talked about issues surrounding religion and war – to make it more plain, the way everyone involved in a conflict thinks God is on their side.

I thought of this again when I went to see Gone with the Wind.  I was very impressed by the movie’s complex treatment of war and the way it enters the lives of individuals, even though at first mention of war the characters do mostly subscribe to the idea of God being on their side. (When the events turn against the south, they change their minds).

We saw Verdi’s Aida the next weekend during the broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera. The first act concludes with the beautiful piece Nume, custode e vindice, a prayer for the protection, and of course victory, of the Egyptian army. But the opera, too, complicates straightforward ideas of religion and war because of personal loyalties that go beyond national concerns.

The other theme to my reading / watching recently seems to be revisiting things from childhood (mine or others).  I’ve ordered one of my favourite Christmas programs, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, which is a fantastic animated piece set to music.  I hope it’s as evocative to me now as it always has been.

Sesame Street’s 40th anniversary got me thinking about the movies that went along with the show. We always loved Sesame Street’s Christmas special, with Bert and Ernie playing out O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi and Big Bird waiting for Santa, but I was especially thinking of Follow that Bird (1985), where Big Bird is adopted, runs away, is kidnapped (birdnapped?) by a carnival, and finally returns home. It was funnier for adults than I had thought it might be (the family Big Bird goes to live with lives on Canary Row, and their children are Donny and Marie), but not as much fun now as I’m sure it was then.

My friend had been encouraging me to read a book she loves: Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It was a beautiful book, but it got me thinking about some of the things I love from my childhood, like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books…I don’t know that they can ever be as effective if we come to them as adults as if we have loved them from the time we could read.

I’m very much enjoying the new L.M. Montgomery book, The Blythes are Quoted. As has been mentioned everywhere, some Montgomery fans won’t enjoy this darker book as much. I’ve always loved the books, but found their consistent cheeriness a bit grating, and the stories and vignettes are wonderful.

And now I’m watching a midday rerun of an early episode of Dawson’s Creek, and the soundtrack’s made up of Chantal Kreviazuk and Ben Folds Five tunes. Very 90s.

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I went yesterday to Cineplex’s special showing of the remastered Gone with the Wind.

I have never seen this movie before. How I got away with that when it was one of my mother’s ironing movies (the other was the 6-part BBC Pride and Prejudice) I don’t know, but somehow I did, and all I knew of it were the things everyone knows: Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, “I’ll never be hungry again,” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

And when it first started, I was worried. I was worried, at a massive 4 hours, that it would be slow. That the characters, the types, wouldn’t have aged well (I was especially worried about that at Mammy’s first appearance. Her character develops…Prissy, not so lucky).

But, as I should have known from its longevity, the 1000 pages of Margaret Mitchell’s novel hold more than enough action for four wonderful hours – varied, melodramatic, and also true to life. I was impressed with the treatment of the historical context – loving, and yet mostly clear-eyed about the period’s glories and tragedies. I was impressed with the treatment of adult relationships, because even though this is where most of the melodrama lies, they still feel…honest. This is largely because of the complexity brought to what could be stereotypical roles by incredibly talented actors.

And the ending was perfect, and you know how difficult endings can be to get right.

Not sure…

November 15, 2009

…what to make of Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I know for sure that I’m thankful to have the addition with the appendix, Mistakes We Knew We Were Making, because if there was any doubt in my mind that Eggers was successful in what he was attempting, a passage in the appendix convinced me.

The book is, as we’ve discussed, G., uneven. And it reminds me–only in parts, which limitation is a good thing–of other things I’ve read that are created in so intensely personal a way that they become indecipherable to others. Confessional is fine with me…but how can there be art without an attempt to communicate to others? Can there be expression, of anything, at all, without an audience in mind? Would it still be “expression”, or would it be something else? Anyway, if it’s just for you, and not for others, it should stay in your sock drawer like everyone’s bad high school poetry.

But only in parts…other parts, I think, are glorious. And finally, in the appendix, Eggers writes:

“The book was seen by its author as a stupid risk, and an ugly thing, and a betrayal, and overall, as  a mistake he would regret for the rest of his life but a mistake which nevertheless he could not refrain from making, and worse, as a mistake he would encourage everyone to make, because everyone should make big, huge mistakes, because a) They don’t want you to; b) Because they haven’t the balls themselves and your doing it reminds them of their status as havers-of-no-balls; c) Because your life is worth documenting; d) because if you do not believe your life is worth documenting, or knowing about, then why are you wasting your time/our time? Our air? e) Because if you do it right and go straight toward them you like me will write to them, and will looking straight into their eyes when writing, will look straight into their fucking eyes, like a person sometimes can do with another person, and tell them something because even though you might not know them well, or at all, and even if you wrote in their books or hugged them or put your hand on their arm, you would still scarcely know them, but even so wrote a book that was really a letter to them, a messy fucking letter that you could barely keep a grip on, but a letter you meant, and a letter you sometimes wish you had not mailed, but a letter you are happy that made it from you to them.”

That last part again:

“…wrote a book that was really a letter to them, a messy fucking letter that you could barely keep a grip on, but a letter you meant, and a letter you sometimes wish you had not mailed, but a letter you are happy that made it from you to them.”

I think sums this glorious mess of a book up, exactly.