Friday, April 2, 2010

Franny and Zooey

Day 52 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project. A full deck of cards.

Kim, Susan, Phyllis, Janet, and Pam are reading Franny and Zooey, by J. D. Salinger, for a book group. Generally they read books by women authors with women as main characters, because they are all women and connect to women’s experiences, but sometimes they read books by men with main characters who are women, such as How to be Good by Nick Hornby.

They are a group of women who know each other from church, a progressive Christian church that embraces everyone, and a title like How to Be Good is of course appealing to them, even though the book itself was both hilarious and ambiguous on that particular subject, and not any kind of instruction manual.

Neither is Franny and Zooey…which I am reading, too, for the above-mentioned book group. And re-reading. I read the Franny part twice in a row at the picnic table in the sun on Wednesday, amazed, almost as if I were praying incessantly.

Now that I have finished the Zooey part, I am still amazed. I kept smiling at spots in this book—for instance, the ending. I got so excited while finishing it up at the kitchen table, that I grabbed the nearest bit of paper, an envelope, and the nearest pencil, the stub of a blue one, and began to write odd little notes on it, with page numbers:

p. 168—stonemason
p. 167—Emily Dickinson/ego
p. 170—silent when Pilate

…and down from that an arrow pointing to The Master and Margarita, a book in which I hung on the conversations of Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the intertwining novel plot, and wept and smiled at once.

My notes continue: Easter/Jesus (I am amazed at the coincidence of when I am reading this particular book, and did anyone know when we picked it that it was so much about Jesus and god-related things? Did anyone remember that? I know I didn’t! I didn’t even remember that Franny and Zooey are actors! But I did want to meet Franny again, as we had encountered her in Eileen Favorite’s book, The Heroines, when she came to stay at a bed and breakfast to think things over a bit.)

Desire. The phrase “none of your business.”

Yesterday I was complaining a little bit. And I have complained quite a bit in my longish life, stupidly and sometimes perhaps justifiably, except that what anybody else does or doesn’t do, as Zooey bluntly reminds me, is none of my business.

Anyhoo…I found this book to be a joy and a comfort. I kept laughing and wincing and almost crying, but in a silent, focused, inward way.

I got just as upset as Franny at all the people who tear down other people (literary & academic types) in the Franny part. And Zooey is the same way, judging and tearing down people in his own profession—television acting—and the both of them not able to accept someone who is talented and good but not a genius, and thus maybe not brave enough to attempt to be a genius, even if they are born for that…until, yes, they surrender to this possibility and just, uh, do it, but not in a Nike slogan way…really.

I had read Franny and Zooey when younger and completely forgotten it, but it came back with startling clarity. I remembered the patch of sunlight Franny stares at on the table in the restaurant, Zooey’s razor, the girl playing hide and seek with her dog down in the courtyard below.

Anyway, I connected with this book and with The Way of the Pilgrim book, and its “sequel,” referenced inside it. And so did David, off in North Carolina, reading this same book for reasons of his own, and in part to honor and grieve Salinger.

I will be traveling for a couple days, but I will be asking people what they are reading, and why, writing it down longhand in a notebook, and reporting back to you when I return.


aka Simone said...

I'm looking forward to re-reading it, too. And I'll miss reading your blog every morning over the weekend. See you next week!

Susan said...

Will you be asking random strangers what they're reading? I think that would be a beautiful thing.

I almost wrote "perfect strangers" but then I thought: what makes one a "perfect" stranger? Is it that we have zero knowledge of this person & thus, no preconceptions, no history, no bias with someone we've never met? Is this a kind of perfection?

I think I might complain too much as well! I shall have to take a page from Zooey's book...or (even better) read Franny and Zooey, as I never have before. These characters & I are...perfect strangers.

Susan said...

Haven't even started it yet (and never read it before) but will start it after Easter when things slow down a bit for me -- thanks for these comments as I am now excited to read it!

Kathleen said...

I asked some family members and a new acquaintance. With perfect strangers, the conversation was about dance and music.