Lack of Particulars Makes the Story

Unrest at work has been put to rest. Negative thoughts met with positive thoughts, a whole lot plummeted into the chasm that had separated them, and there was release.

And a big grinning howdy to my colleagues who read this blog.

What I can tell you about being a college English teacher is this: designing a new course is huge fun, never better than when it’s a literature class. I am completely, zealously happy about my job when I get to promote good words, smart words, crafted words.

I am completely, zealously happy about the parts of my job that actually pertain to what I love.

More specifically, I have recently been osmosing stories, poems, and memoirs in the anthology the class will use when I teach Modern World Literature for the first time next semester.

While the last couple weeks of my work life often felt Pynchonian, in the way they made me clutch my stomach and perplexedly splutter, “Huh?”, the hours I’ve spent reading through the anthology have been Alice Munro-ian in their simple, pure delectation. The works in this anthology (post-colonial literature, which means post-WWII pieces from those whose lives were affected by the colonization of their countries and cultures) have impressed me with their crystalline voices and deft lack of adornment.

When the world is feeling darker and as though there are storm winds knocking down branches all over your yard,

it’s complete bliss to open a book and find calm.

Because they can provide a haven and an escape–this past was not the week for me to tackle Finnegan’s Wake–books remain my most reliable companions.

Imagine that your brain and heart are hurting, and you no longer feel like you know which way is up. Then imagine opening an anthology and reading this accessible, matter-of-fact paragraph written by Armenian-American Richard Hagopian in his story “Wonderful People”:

I saw her and liked her because she was not beautiful. Her chin was not just right and something about her nose fell short of perfection. And when she stood up, well, there wasn’t much to see but her tallness, the length from her hips to her feet, and the length from her hips to her shoulders. She was a tall girl and that was all. She was the first tall girl I had ever liked, perhaps because I had never watched a tall girl get up from a table before; that is, get up the way she did, everything in her rising to the art of getting up, combining to make the act look beautiful and not like just another casual movement, an ordinary life motion.

You’re snared, aren’t you? Then, just when you think, “Hey, I like this,” the next paragraph begins, and you fall limp within its grasp:

Maybe I liked her because when I talked to her for the first time I found out that she had tall ideas too, ideas which like her chin and nose did not seem just right to me, but like her getting up were beautiful. The hung together. They were tall ideas, about life and people, morals and ethics. At first, they seemed shockingly loose to me, but when I saw them all moving together, like her body, they hung together. They looked naturally beautiful. They had the same kind of pulled-out poetry that sometimes defies the extra-long line and hangs together; hangs together when you see the whole thing finished, when you’ve scanned it up and down and seen all the line endings melt into a curious kind of unity, which makes strange music–strange because everything is long yet compact. She was music. I see it now, her getting up impressed me at the time because for the first time I felt poetry in a person rising–music in body parts moving in natural rhythms. I liked the tall girl.

(the entire text can be read at Google Books here: http://books.google.com/books?id=4N9MOy_E5LsC&pg=PA190&lpg=PA190&dq=hagopian+%22wonderful+people%22&source=bl&ots=t3DUtm_2fT&sig=8We8dMyR-p1Fp8ByBAMQKsNy5Q4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=OjmZUJ3sM9H8yAGJwYDYAw&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=hagopian%20%22wonderful%20people%22&f=false)

Not only do I like the tall girl, I like Hagopian and the fact that, the second I started reading his words, the swells and ebbs of my life fell away.

I am left with the sweetest sense

that during every stress and crisis

every dark hour of loneliness or perturbation

books have never failed.

If you care to share, click a square:

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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20 Comments

  1. Amen. Books never fail. Just so happens tonight I have the evening to myself and the plan is to curl up on the couch and read. I am SO looking forward to that.

  2. And that is why I read even more than I write. Because the world is a beautiful place made all the more so by the beautiful observers.

    Pearl

  3. Yay, books. I love them with the heat of a thousand suns. Would you share your reading list for the class? I’m always looking for way to expand my horizons (during the times when life is not so stressful that murder mysteries are all my brain can handle).

    Re: the passage you quoted. Might part of its appeal to you stem from your height? In praise of tall women 🙂

    1. Wellllll…I’m about 5’6″ and a half, so I’m not all that tall, really. Kind of average-ish (except in my ability to consume baked goods; there, I excel).

  4. oh sugar, you get me. yep, the books from childhood through adulthood have soothed me when wounded and inspired me when i needed that. they’ve been the unfailing friends when others have abandoned. yep, that’s probably one of the big reasons i want to be a librarian. i’d be working in a building full of friends.

  5. I was going to comment on the value of books (yes!) and then got distracted by your response about your height. So I went off on a tangent. Per the CDC. average height for American women is 5’3.8″ which in fact, makes you taller than average. And makes me scarily precisely average. If you look at only non-Hispanic white American women, the average is still only a bit taller at 5’4.2″. But… the thing that most struck me is that I always pictured you as being a LOT taller than me, like maybe 5’10”. I have no idea why.

    1. I crazy love this comment, on about three different levels. You gave me facts and a tangent and feedback that I somehow come across as larger than life (hahahahaha)…now that’s my kind of comment.

  6. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of this book which is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. With this type of writing in it, I know I will start reading and be hooked!

    1. There’s so much good stuff, D! Some of it’s brutal, but it reflects the reality of experience. I’m so glad you get to read so much of it. I’m so glad I get to read so much of it.

  7. Ah, tall women. I am one of those. Especially in light of SAW’s facts and figures. I am approximately 6 ft. and have never felt comfortable with my height. Reading the passage that you quote hit a spot in me. Reading the thoughts of someone (male) who sees a tall woman as beautiful simply in the act of revealing her height as she stands went straight to my heart.
    I love books, I love to read. Most of my reading makes me jealous of the writer’s ability to write–such as this blog—and I have to push my awe to the side in order to follow the story. I think that your reading list would be wonderful. I am always looking for more to read, and love see what other voracious readers have discovered and recommend.

    1. Here’s the link to the anthology’s Table of Contents: http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/product/Literature-without-Borders/9780130166654.page

      If buying the book is too much, you can at least look up the individual authors and find some of them in your library.

      As far as the tall woman goes, your comment here makes me incredibly happy. Click on the Google Books link and read the whole thing; it’s only about two pages long, but the impression she leaves is permanent.

      1. Once I have $100 to spare, I think I will buy this book. It looks wonderful.
        As the to full piece on the tall girl-I love it! My husband is shorter than me. We fit so much of the description of the relationship. I feel as though I have found a gift in reading this. Thanks for sharing it.

        1. I. am. so. glad.

          Seriously. I loved reading that short piece, and knowing that it resonated for you, too, means a great deal.

          Oh, and I’m seeing a used copy of the anthology on Amazon right now for $49.82…

  8. Some of my best friends are books.

    I never would have made it through my life intact and relatively sane if not for the friends I have found in pages. And they are friends, make no mistake. Jo, and Nancy, and Laura and Jane and Scarlett and Harry and Hermione on and on and on.

    I never feel richer than when I walk into the public library and look around realize, “All this is here for the reading! For FREE!”

  9. Interestingly, I learned from the comments that I am exactly the average height of non-hispanic white women.

    You will have to share your reading list. I remember loving Nectar in a Sieve in my World Lit class. I did not, however, enjoy One Hundred Years of Solitude. My eye is twitching just thinking about it.

    1. Who knew the side bonus here would be finding out how tall many of you are?

      I linked to the anthology’s Table of Contents in reply to an earlier comment, so you can look at it that way!

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