Saturday, April 18, 2020

Loopy Reading

After Little Women, I couldn’t settle on the right book to read next. I started Baltasar and Blimunda by José Saramago, picked up at the library book sale, which was charming for a boarding pass left inside by its donor; it is a Portuguese novel, and the boarding pass was from Lisbon, Portugal to Barcelona, Spain, back in the days of international travel. I used it as a bookmark. But the language was detailed and dense, and I couldn’t stick with it, and have set it aside for now.

Then I went to my shelf for another American classic, and pulled out The Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which I vaguely remembered reading at some point. The underlining and margin notes indicated I had read it in some studious mood or circumstance. I skimmed paragraphs of the introduction and put it back. But, to foreshadow quite obviously, the way Louisa May Alcott does, I was destined to take it up again later!

Finally, I looked up at the top shelf of my computer desk, where I keep a row of books about Emily Dickinson, literary feuds, literary intersections, and the act of reading. 

And there was American Bloomsbury, by Susan Cheever, also scooped up at a library sale, and not yet read. This would be it, the next read, and its subtitle will tell you why, and also why I looped back to The Blithedale Romance afterwards. American Bloomsbury is subtitled Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work.

It was exactly the right read, in part because of its “loopy” style. The author explains what she’s going to do: “a series of overlapping scenes in which some incidents are repeated, sometimes more than once.” She wants us to see the same incidents through the eyes of the alternating focal characters. “By this method I have tried to honor the characters, their lives, and their intimate connections with each other.” I remember my old self, so I confess that this method may have driven me a little crazy in the past, but the repetitions were helpful during this scatterbrained time!

It was fun to learn that teen Louisa had sort of a simultaneous crush on Thoreau, a young man, and Emerson, an old man; fun to learn (again) that Emerson basically paid for everything, that he had helped gather all this genius in Concord, Massachusetts; fun to revisit the annoying and endearing traits of Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, and Thoreau. I understand fictional Marmee better in Little Women, when she says she is angry every day of her life, by meeting her actual husband via Susan Cheever. Ineffectual dreamer.

And Margaret Fuller, charismatic feminist, interested me the most. Apparently, several male writers have fictionalized her, including Hawthorne in The Blithedale Romance, so I will be reading it alert to the “male gaze” but with her interesting life seen recently through a “female gaze,” as well.

If you are having trouble reading, you might connect to this piece by Kim Kishbaugh in Escape Into Life. She has discovered YA books! 

And yesterday, thanks to my library’s ebook collection, I finally read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. 

Yes, I cried.

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