Black Wine shortly proved to be not my thing at all. So I got online and saw if the college library had anything I was interested in.
I made quick work of Ethel and Ernest, a short graphic novel that’s a retelling of the lives of the real-life Ethel and Ernest Briggs, the author/illustrator’s parents. It’s a sweet glimpse into a long love affair and life in the WWII era.
While the slavishly class-conscious Ethel got on my nerves, the end of the novel, the wintertime of the Briggses’ four-decade love affair (one that began late, with both in their thirties) is exquisitely sad and touching.
I cried at the end and I bet you would have, too.
Then on to Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life, first in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci.
I think I heard about Jones from Neil Gaiman, who frequently mentions her and is a fan. And as my favorite way of finding new authors is to raid the works of my favorite authors’ favorite authors, I have wanted to read her work for years.
I almost put Charmed Life down. It was too dull, too white. I am a genre girl all the way, but I prefer a little sex, death and monstrosity in my reading. I am not politically troubled by books with nothing but white people in them; I am bored by them.
And Wynne’s world is a very tea-and-jam world, very English, very upper class. Strangely, all her characters seem not to have or understand loving bonds between themselves and others. You’d have to read the books to see just what I mean, but you know when you read something, and you think the poor author must have missed out on a significant life experience, as their fiction has a hole in it?
Perhaps she’s just playing to the innate heartlessness of children, but she seemed not to get the bonds of loving connection at all. Or perhaps she was just being unsentimental, in which case, Go Diana.
But the book got better just as I began to seriously consider consigning it to the return box in front of the library, and I ended up enjoying it. The similarities to Harry Potter are profound — the Englishness, the coexistence of a strangely archaic magical world and a mundane one, the young man with hidden powers — but clearly Diana was first (and I believe I’ve read that J.K. Rowling has said she’s never read Jones’ books).
I’ve just finished Charmed Life and am starting The Lives of Christopher Chant.
Attenborough in Paradise, a collection of videos about his life and personal journeys, has footage of the documentary great as a skinny, pasty-legged twentysomething Englishman — and of course as the rumpled, plumpish white-haired gentleman seemingly game for any adventure anywhere.
I can’t remember the last time I saw something as inspiring how vastly he was improved by the passage of 40-some years. The younger Attenborough is earnest and dull. The older, fatter, latter Attenborough is fascinating, fascinated, alive, funny, well traveled… It’s like all the best of him got richer and stronger, the rest of him dwindled, and he was remade him into something altogether improved.
Impressive as hell.
I hope I am running around in Borneo in my seventies, watching mating birds of paradise and rapelling up 100-foot trees.
(James Taylor plays Asheville: all images John Fletcher, Asheville Citizen-Times)
I saw James Taylor in concert as part of his concert mini-tour in support of the Obama campaign.
I’m a casual fan, but admire Taylor for his beautiful voice, the length of his career, his obvious pride in his Carolina origins, his very real appreciation of our shared home state, and not least how he has kept the drama of his personal life (drug addiction, mental illness) out of the spotlight.
I mean, I think people kind of know he had problems, but he’s managed to reveal them without obviously seeking publicity.
He started the set with “America the Beautiful,” which made me get a little misty. The mountains really do get purple here.
He did all the hits. He clearly wanted to give us what we wanted, and get in all the good ones in a short set. He was comfortable, gracious and real.
How tall is that guy? Even from a distance he looked a good six and a half feet, lanky and elegantly slim in jeans, a button-down and a navy blazer. He wore a sort of Indiana Jones hat, which he doffed dramatically and bowed to reveal, with what I think was very intentional comic effect, the dome of his bald head.
Vain, he was not.
He was funny. He sang to a prerecorded track on two songs and called it karaoke, which it was. Usually laconic, he mimed frantic confusion at where the backup music came from.
He called his wife Kim the best thing that ever happened to him, and called her that quietly and sincerely. She was an ordinary-looking, ample blonde woman in an Obama shirt that, rather charmingly, looked a little small. Less like she was showing off her body than she’d just wanted to wear an Obama shirt, even if it was a tad snug. She was about as Hollywood as a soccer mom.
They both seemed decent sorts.