euphoria

EuphoriaLilyKingHe is wine and bread and deep in my stomach. ~ Lily King

There are so many beautiful things to say about this book, but perhaps the greatest praise I can offer is this: I read it in three days, and once I finished, I picked it up and read it again. It’s magical, so magical in fact, that it passed my perfection test perfectly — like that first flutter of friendship, that quick spark of energy between kindred spirits, this book takes you in smack exactly on page 50. One paragraph in, right on cue, page 50. Perfection.

Now we readers are a hopeful people, but we are not always forgiving. It’s okay to admit it. We are a little judgy. We pick up a book, longing for that seductive pull that promises to take our imagination to a fabulous dinner party. We walk into the room with wide-eyed expectation. We wait graciously with our host as the cast of characters is introduced, and while we are full of questions, we watch patiently as events begin to unfold. But around page 50, if pieces are not falling into place, we stifle yawns and quickly begin to fashion our excuses. Maybe you’re a page 75er. Maybe you’re a 100. And if you are the determined sort to hold out for dessert after three hours of bad conversation over cold gruel, God help you. It’s page 50 for me because I just know. I can feel a connection with someone within a few minutes, and I tend to read books the same way. And right on cue, this book enchanted me.

Lily King’s Euphoria, loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead, is the story of three anthropologists who get tangled up studying the tribes of New Guinea in the 1930s. The American Nell Stone has written a bestselling book on ethnography, which has made her famous and well-respected among her peers and has afforded her sufficient grant money to finance her excursions. She is drawn into relationship with the women and children of the tribes she inhabits while Fen, her embittered husband, is almost a Kurtz-like character on the hunt for virile rituals, sacred objects and warfare. The pair are at odds over her professional success, and Fen’s character is driven throughout the novel to one up her and restore what he perceives as an imbalance of power in their relationship. At the start of the narrative, Nell has successfully pulled him back from a murderous tribe, and as they float through an atmospheric riverscape in search of a new village, they come across Bankson, a college rival who soon comes between them in wonderful ways . . . right on page 50!

Nell is in bad shape. Fen has broken her glasses, she also has broken her ankle and is covered in festering lesions, and the attentive reader is quick to observe that it is Bankson who notices. Granted he is telling the story at this point, but King takes pains to show the reader that Bankson is tender and thoughtful . . . and drawn to Nell. I won’t give away all the details of their friendship but will simply cast them as two caring kindred spirits connected by a great love in this wonderfully seductive story, with the feel of Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa but full of intelligent commentary on gender, ethnography and the struggle for power or peace, for spiritual connection and intimacy.

After you read it, please do come back here and tell me your favorite parts. And because I am still under its spell and can’t bring myself to admit that fall classes begin this week, I’m going to go read it again.

I try not to return to these moments very often, for I end up lacerating my young self for not simply kissing the girl. I thought we had time. Despite everything, I believed there was time. Love’s first mistake. Perhaps love’s only mistake. Time for you and time for me, though I never did warm to Eliot. She was married. She was pregnant. And what would it have mattered in the end? What would it have altered to have kissed her then, that night? Everything. Nothing. Impossible to know. We fell asleep reciting. Who was speaking or what poem I am not certain. We woke to little Sema and Amini poking us in the leg.

She told me the Tam believed that love grows in the stomach and that they went around clutching their bellies when their hearts were broken. You are in my stomach was their most intimate expression of love.


 

Euphoria, By Lily King (288 pp)

Atmospheric and sensual, with startling images throughout, Euphoria, is an intellectually stimulating tour de force. NPR

A New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize
Winner of the 2014 New England Book Award for Fiction
A Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
A Best Book of the Year for 2014:
“New York Times Book Review,” “Time,” NPR, “Washington Post,” “Entertainment Weekly,” “Newsday,” “Vogue,” “New York Magazine,” “Seattle Times,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Wall Street Journal,” “Boston Globe,” “The Guardian,” “Kirkus Reviews,” Amazon, “Publishers Weekly,” Oprah.com, Salon

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moving through summer

grass-wind-field-summer

I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.  ~ Hafiz

Summer is an exciting time. A season of travel, movement, being. We have been programmed to think of summer as a time fit for slowing down, a time of rest and relaxation, but my isn’t it one of the busiest seasons of all. I don’t know about you, but each year as the month of June approaches, I long for those lazy days. I recall the summers I spent as a child, swimming in our backyard pool, playing cards on the living room floor with my brothers, riding a bicycle to the drugstore for a scoop of ice cream or a pack of bubblegum. I have so many fond memories of days spent doing nothing more than waking, eating, playing and sleeping.

For many years my family lived in a five bedroom split-level house tucked into a suburban cul-de-sac in a neighborhood full of children. It was an idyllic backdrop for childhood adventures. Furnished by a single father, our decor was sparse and indestructible. The front room was originally designed to be a formal living room, with elaborate faux-landscape wallpaper, white shag carpet, and a grand window with sheer drapery meant to be drawn back dramatically and pooled on the floor. You know, the kind of room your parents kept meticulously clean but never allowed you to enter else you die. Well, once we moved in it became our play room. Along the faux-landscaped wall sat a lone geometric print black, red, and gold crushed velvet couch. The only other piece of furniture was a tall maple cabinet that housed our beloved Sony Trinitron color television, replete with a dozen silver push button channels with green glowing backlit numbers, and our pong and Atari video game consoles. What more did we need? My father preferred the family room off the kitchen and set it up with a tower bookcase holding his elaborate component stereo system, two custom-built speakers, and another equally funky tweed couch and that was it. In our formal dining room? A weight bench. God bless my dad for providing us with such a wonderful place to call home, with good schools, winding streets lined with leafy trees for climbing, neighborhood friends for moonlit hide and seek games, a pantry full of healthy cereal and boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. When I wander through this house in my mind, I don’t see all the missing furniture but only feel the sunshine and laughter of summer.

While those days of simply waking, eating, playing and sleeping are long gone, we can still make time for summer. In many respects, the slowness of summer is a state of mind, because let’s face it, it’s already August and we have jobs and family and obligations and places to go people to see. Reality is racing all around us — it doesn’t stop for an iced tea in a patch of shade. That new movie you’ve got to see. The restaurant you’re dying to try. The friends who just called to let you know they’ll be in town, tomorrow, with all their kids AND the drooling dog. That calendar fills up, even if you’re retired or perhaps a teacher like me with summer spread out before you. But what if we were more deliberate in our leave taking? What if we set aside one section of our day and moved more slowly through it. What would that kind of summer look like for you?

I’d enjoy long stretches of morning and spend as much time as I could in my pajamas, reading or just listening to the breeze through open windows, to water trickling from a backyard fountain. I’d never pass up an invitation to travel, I’d linger longer over conversations with strangers — grateful for good fortune when it brings me to kind people who like to talk and tell stories as much as I do — and I’d savor the extra time I have to experiment in the kitchen, making jam and baking bread. It’s in these moments, those moments in between meetings and parties and appointments and classes, in between weekend trips and laundry loads, where my movement, my being, is filled with summer.

 One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.

~ Jeannette Walls


What if we set aside one section of our day and moved more slowly through it. What would that kind of summer look like for you?

 

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all there is, RIP james salter

Children are our crop, our fields, our earth. They are birds let loose into darkness. They are errors renewed.

~ James Salter

I returned home late yesterday evening after an entire day spent in a community theater whilst my biggest love ran through two different dress rehearsals for the dance recitals she will be in this coming weekend.  Well, if I’m honest, I didn’t actually spend the entire day inside the theater.  When I wasn’t there singing along in my seat or trying to push the kids off the stage so I could take my turn, I was making three trips up and down the freeway fetching and carrying and loving.  Loving it all, for sure, but by 9 PM I was feeling a little foggy.  Sometimes a few minutes in a whirling spa can clear the mind, but for people like us, though, it’s mostly storytelling and books that seem to cure any kind of weariness.  And so it was that I found myself sitting at my desk downstairs in my study, wandering into the online bookshop for succor.  [Read more…]

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