Literary Explorations

literati books

The Literati Bookstore has eye-catching displays of its books. – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Some weeks ago we visited Ann Arbor, Michigan’s eclectic downtown area. The focus of this trip was several bookstores: Literati and Aunt Agatha’s New and Used Mysteries, Detection, and True Crime Books. Not only did we relish the vast array of books at these fine stores, we happened upon excellent eateries, and a most unexpected event.

Grappling with one-way streets and wayward pedestrian traffic while attempting to locate a parking space tested my patience, which is generally at an all-time low when it comes to parking the car in unchartered territory. Finally, I succumbed to placing my red chariot in a parking garage. Out of the car and walking revived my spirits. As it turned out, the parking garage was across the street from the Literati Bookstore. We were pleased to note that this area of Ann Arbor held stores and cafes within walking distance of where we wished to be.

literati outside

Literati Bookstore beckoned us hither to a treasure trove of books. – tangled pasta.net

literati shelves

It is most satisfying to spend time in a bookstore like Literati, lost among books.-tangledpasta.net

We wandered blissfully through Literati Bookstore, reading the employees reviews of books, and perusing through books that piqued our interest. Of these, there were many. Ultimately I decided to purchase Nora Ephron’s Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble in one recently published volume. Years ago I bought these books individually from a vendor on Amazon. They smelled musty and were well-worn. I finally donated them because the aged scent and discolored pages distracted me from the texts! Anjelica was pleased to find the print version of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk We Should All Be Feminists. After paying for our books, we climbed the stairs thinking we could imbibe an ice tea and read a bit of our new purchases. Alas, the third floor café of Literati reminded me of Starbucks: each table was occupied with someone using a laptop with ear buds.

auntagathas

The name of this bookstore brings to mind the inimitable Agatha Christie. -tangledpasta.net

Crossing the street, we entered Aunt Agatha’s New and Used Mysteries, Detection, and True Crime Books. The fragrance of used books about knocked me down. I have decided that my olfactory sense fails to appreciate the fragrance of very used books. My daughter invested in The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. My disappointment was in the area designated to Agatha Christie mysteries: the bottom shelf of tall bookshelf. I really thought a sterling location would befit such a master of mystery, not to mention that the name of the book emporium is called Aunt Agatha’s, though that my be the name of the owner’s aunt. That aside, we had a literary day in Ann Arbor.

auntagathas inside

The clutter and stacks of books at Aunt Agatha’s show a fond appreciation of novels and an appreciation of stacks of books. – tangled pasta.net

Ciao for now.

 

 

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

Maxim preferred his coffee and his tea with two lumps of sugar and cream. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Thus begins Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, with one of the most iconic openings in literature. The eeriness of the iambic hexameter structure of this first line of Rebecca underscores the hallucinatory sort of events the young second Mrs. de Winter attempts to unravel. While some readers swoon over the “romance” in Rebecca, the story is more Gothic suspense than it is romance. The character of Maxim de Winter, the wealthy, emotionally damaged widower who marries the 20-year-younger second Mrs. de Winter, barely functions as a fully engaged husband to his shy and naïve second wife. The second Mrs. de Winter’s attempts to better understand her husband’s erratic outbursts are thwarted either by Maxim himself, or by the malevolent housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.

Rebecca’s narrator is the second Mrs. de Winter. How reliable a narrator we believe her to be is contingent on how much credibility the reader is willing to invest in her. We are more likely to believe the second Mrs. de Winter because she lacks previous experience with the Manderley estate and those in its orb. We might be willing to invest more in what she says because she views Manderley and Maxim de Winter without fully knowing what and who they are in the greater context of the narrative. Yet she on various occasions she plays fast and loose with the truth in order to deflect attention from herself. These lies continually make her appear an awkward juvenile. Maxim is inexorably linked to Manderley. He shares with his second wife that Manderley is his home; it is where he was born, where he grew up. Even though Maxim is wealthy enough to have remained either on the Cote d’Azur where they met, or in Italy where they honeymooned, he opts to take her to Manderley. He soon realizes it would have been better had they remained in Italy on a perennial honeymoon.

Throughout the course of their months at Manderley, it is evident that Maxim becomes more and more unhappy, likewise his young bride. He is haunted by events leading up to his first wife Rebecca’s death. The past continually rears its head at the most inopportune moments to send him either into a rage, like prior to the costume ball, or plunge him into despair, as when the young Mrs. de Winter insists on following Jasper the dog to the cottage by the sea. The reader fails to understand Maxim’s moody behavior, but inklings provide clues to dark secrets lurking within the man. While Maxim holds the key to aspects of the past, the dead Rebecca reveals herself to the reader as the narrative progresses. All is most certainly not what it appears or appeared to be in Rebecca. The shifting landscapes and slow unveiling of characters, coupled with plot twists keep generation after generation of readers enthralled in du Maurier’s classic story.

Ciao for now.

 

The Brontes: To Walk Invisible

Anne, Emily, Branwell, and Charlotte Bronte in a painting by Branwell around 1834.  He later painted himself out of the portrait. www. tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On March 26, 2017, PBS broadcast the film To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters. I found this title curious since the film devoted a great deal of time to Branwell Bronte, the sisters’ only brother. Branwell cast a shadow over the lives of his family for multiple reasons: he was the only male heir; he was as talented as his sisters; and he was an alcoholic and drug addict. That the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were superbly gifted writers goes without saying. However, Branwell remained the unrealized talent.

For my Senior Seminar as an English major at Indiana University Bloomington in the 1970’s, I was fortunate to have been accepted into the seminar, “The Brontes,” spearheaded by Professor Susan Gubar. We read everything, and I do mean everything, poems, novels, and unfinished manuscripts, written by The Brontes, including Branwell. Jane Eyre’s pluck and compassion; Heathcliff’s virility and vulnerability, Helen Graham’s defiance and liberation thrilled me no end. Yet Branwell’s dissolute living seemed to me to stem from a sense of fear and sense of inferiority. He certainly could have applied to study art in London, but he shrunk from what? The competition? His possible lack of great talent? Whatever his demons, Branwell squandered his money on drink, and then returned to his father’s home at Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England. He painted portraits, worked on translations of the classics such as Homer, and composed poetry.

I found Branwell intriguing. I mused about what his life must have been like with the intellect and writing grandeur of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne under the same roof. His sisters elected not to reveal to him the success of their novels, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey because they feared upsetting him. Clearly Branwell turned out to be a disappointment, having thwarted his own considerable talents, and having engaged in a liaison with his employer’s wife, Lydia Robinson, which resulted in another loss of a job. Branwell’s behavior worsens as To Walk Invisible progresses, as it did in reality. The continual havoc he inflicted upon himself and upon his family becomes increasingly hard to watch. His death serves as a relief that put him out of his addictive thrashing and raving, opium as the drug of choice and the alcohol. All I could think of was what I pondered in my Senior Seminar class on The Brontes all those years ago: such tormented talent cast aside. I even wrote my lengthy Seminar paper on Branwell. To Walk Invisible rekindled my interest in Branwell, in spite of his demons.

Ciao for now.

 

Facts are, in Fact, Facts

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, commonly known as 1984

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/25/511671118/classic-novel-1984-sales-are-up-in-the-era-of-alternative-facts

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I have been lately contemplating what changes mean. Certainly we have witnessed the emergence of populism in our government; furthermore, we have experienced 2016 as the warmest year on our planet. One change that I find troubling is the recent rhetoric regarding “alternative facts”.NPR’s broadcast on The Two-Way, on January 25, 2017, discussed how Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post cited the phrase from George Orwell’s book, 1984. She talked about 1984  On CNN’s Reliable Sources, in which Tumulty said “alternative facts” was a “George Orwell phrase.” Expanding on that idea in an interview today Tumulty said it reminded her of the double speak found in 1984 where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

Within Orwell’s 1984 dystopian society, “alternative facts” are actually prevarications, falsehoods. For example: Fact: The earth is spherical in shape. What would an “alternative fact” be, that the earth is flat, an idea prevalent during the Middle Ages? If I remember my earth science class correctly, Isaac Newton proved the earth is spherical in shape in the 17th century, although he was aware that Greek astronomers in the 3rd century B.C. believed as Newton did. Another example: Fact: The earth rotates around the sun, a fact Copernicus presented in the 16th century, although those savvy Greek astronomers wrote about a heliocentric universe in the 3rd century, B.C. Is an “alternative fact” one that adheres to the ancient belief that the sun rotated around the earth? Thanks to my former earth science teacher, I retained these facts. Facts are, in essence, facts, and as such are not open to “alternative facts”.

In my many years of teaching in higher education I have stressed the importance of doing one’s own work, and not resorting to plagiarism. I informed my students that anyone who cheats, likely would cheat in larger things later in life. The example I use is Bernard Madoff. There is a sense of pride in doing  one’s own work; there is little dignity in scamming from the work of another. Another salient point I present is that of the student who attempts to steer the class conversation in a different direction in order to deflect from the reality that the student did not do the homework. Or the student simply has nothing to say on the class subject because the student is so ill-informed that he tries to redirect the conversation in order not to highlight his own ignorance.

Purporting fabrications and distortions of facts and truth are behaviors we attempt to correct in children. To hear and read about adults engaging in such nefarious behavior is both an affront to our dignity and an insult to our intelligence. George Orwell understood this.

Ciao for now.