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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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literary fiction

A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.

bookslittlelife

A Little Allegory of a Parent’s Soul

To introduce the concept of allegory to high school students, I use Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It is the first book I ever remember receiving as a gift. I still have that original copy. It’s inscribed with a birthday wish and a life blessing. Its edges are tattered and curl softly from use, and its insides are  tatted up from Crayola abuse.

I loved “The Giving Tree” from the beginning, although I didn’t understand its complexity back then. Instead, I loved it for its simplicity and purity — the modest black and white sketches, and the story of the tree who loved a boy – loved a boy from every depth and breadth and height her soul could reach.

A boy and his tree. I loved it. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

And then I became a mom.

And KA-POW! – deeper understanding hit me like a felled oak straight to the noggin. This wasn’t merely the story of a boy and his tree. I mean it was, but darn, it was so much more, too! It was a little allegory of a parent’s soul. And for the first time ever reading that story, I cried. And ever since, every single time I read that story… I cry. I can’t even read the last line, I get so choked up.

The truth and power of its message gets to me: the unhesitating willingness of a mama to hew off whole parts of herself to raise up her young with the necessities and tools to survive in this world.

Like I said, I introduce the concept of allegory to my high school juniors – and they can see it, the multiple meanings hidden in its seemingly simplistic lines. They see the sacrifices the tree makes to keep her boy happy. They see her wide-open love through the gifts of her leaves and her apples; they see the unflinching sacrifice of her limbs and her trunk; and they think they understand the final grand gesture in the giving of her shriveled, old stump. Yes, they can definitely see it. And they think they get it. They interpret the allegory in one of two ways…

Some of my students connect it to parental love – those blessed enough to have parents who have shown them true, unconditional love.

But sadly, some don’t get it at all because some of my students haven’t felt that sort of love from their moms and dads. The stories I hear — the stories I see – students whose parents have left them surfing couches in friends’ houses, students whose parents are locked away in jail or whose love is locked away in addiction, students who are parenting siblings — students mere saplings themselves — playing the role of the Giving Tree.

It’s an impossible task for them. They lack the depth and breadth and height of maturity: their leaves are too tender, their fruit is too green, their roots are too shallow to support and sustain another soul, much less themselves. Their stories are enough to crack open a planet-full of hearts and send them weeping.

And speaking of planets… some of my students see another allegorical interpretation: humanity’s blatant misuse of Mother Earth and her resources. In this version, the boy takes and takes and takes with no regard for the Giving Tree’s sacrifice – the more he needs, the more he takes until there’s nothing left but a shriveled-up stump – and even that gets used.

And yes, the depletion of our planet’s resources is a valid and compelling argument — easily seen and scientifically supported, regardless of those who might say otherwise. And in this political climate – when the Environmental Protection Agency is being run by a fossil fuel magnate and the current POTUS is playing a nuclear-annihilation game of chicken with his Asian doppelganger, it is an interpretation with grave importance.

But I prefer the little allegory of a parent’s soul. And I really do believe it was Silverstein’s intent. Because after each sacrifice, after each leaf and apple and branch and trunk that is taken, his prose simply reads: And the Tree was happy.

And the earth cannot be happy being plundered and pillaged. That just cannot prove true.

But as a parent, that happiness statement rings true every single time. When my girls need me. When my boys need me. When my small and humble breasts sustained them all as infants. When my wide and ample hips carried them all as toddlers. When my long and lanky arms surround them as both youngsters and adults. When my eager, willing heart beats for all four of them always and forever with joyful abandon… I am happy.

For them, I would give all. Willingly. And happily.

That’s how I know “The Giving Tree” is a little allegory of a parent’s soul.

This past week, I introduced my boys to Silverstein’s masterpiece – my original, 45-year-old birthday book, its edges all tattered and curled from use, its insides all tatted with Crayola abuse. My boys were mesmerized. They loved it: the simplicity and purity of its prose, the modest black and white of its sketches.

This story of a tree who loved a boy is timeless. This story of a tree that readily hands out huge chunks of herself never gets old. The tree herself may get old. She may lose apples and branches, and her tattoos — if she had any — may wrinkle like that ME + T heart scratched into the core of her being, but no matter what, if her kid finds happiness, that tree finds happiness.  No matter the hardship, the struggle, the pain…

Yes, my boys loved the book.

And this tree was happy.

giving tree

 

A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.

bookslittlelife

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