Sunday, April 14, 2013

READING UNDER THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS

Spring has arrived but it took its time and wouldn't be hurried no matter how we longed for it.  Last week we were bundled up in coats while this week we are barefoot.  The cherry trees blossomed along the Tidal Basin, and we walked beneath them in the early morning to avoid the crowds, and then came home to sit beneath our own trees in the garden. We went to the nursery and picked up some basil and rue and tomatoes, also a pot of Vietnamese cilantro which will probably bolt as cilantro always does.  But it's worth a try.

So hot was the weather this week that the narcissus came and went in a flash, as did the tulip trees.  Yesterday on our walk we passed a mother and her three children raked up the blossoms.  This morning belongs to the birds.  They are back and they woke us up with a chorus.

Meanwhile, there's been James Salter's All That Is.  I was so looking forward to it, having heard him read at the Folger last month, being a great fan of Light YearsA Sport and a Pastime not so much -  but he is one of the greats.  So without further ado,  I went to a bookstore up in Mclean to pick up a copy of All That Is.

Oddly, the bookseller had never heard Salter's name.  But he checked his computer and thought he had one copy,  then went to look for it in back.  I waited with the depressing boxed sets of Fifty Shades of Grey.  Etc.  When he returned, the bookseller said he was sorry.  He couldn't find the Salter novel.  So I ordered it on line.

It was beautifully written, of course.  I loved that about it.  Salter is now eighty-seven, and reading the first hundred pages of this novel felt a little like sitting with an eighty-seven year old maestro hearing wonderful anecdotes spin out and accumulate.  Until I got to the midsection, where the story came alive in his hands, and held me enchanted. Then it sort of flickered a bit - and got a tad disappointing, until at the end I felt as though I had been on a quick and beautifully crafted tour of all that a life had been, all that was, rather than all that is.  Yes, his was a tour through women and places, lingering for a longer stay at one particular woman and one particular house.  But a tour nonetheless.  I'd so wanted it to go deeper.  And because it didn't, that put me in a mood.

It was rather like the sex in his novels - for which he is quite well known. Also a tour.  The sex seems old fashioned,  sex of a different generation, from the perspective of men who have a lot of it, but don't seem particularly attuned to female sexuality. 

The way things were in a more discerning and carefully constructed world - in the hands of men like Salter is enviable. You could really feel nostalgic for some of it, although according to this week's New Yorker article, he never enjoyed great sales.   I also noted a recent poll which stated that 19% of the American public do almost 80% of all the reading. What will become of the writing life? And what has become of our bookstores? What will then become of us!  It left me uneasy, at odds with the beautiful spring weather.

Until yesterday at a huge book sale in the Falls Church community center I picked up an early novel by Claire Messud.  I've just read and reviewed her latest which will be out soon- a beautifully crafted book entitled The Woman Upstairs.  This second hand novel picked up yesterday is The Last Life.  When she writes about France, she isn't a tourist. She isn't an idealist. Nor does the world reside in the hands of her characters.  But she gets under the skin of the places and the characters. She gives me hope for the writing life - and for the life that must be lived today.  I'll be reading Messud today, when we come back from our lunch with Louise - sitting outside, underneath the cherry trees.




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