Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lisa's Bookstack

After 3 years and as many attempts to read it, I finally plowed through the first 100 pages of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and on to the end. Those beginning pages kept stumping me for years -- telling the story of the story before the story. I get impatient. But I was told it would be more than worth it, and it was. Reading it almost 30 years after its publication, I was struck by how much history on which I have only a tenuous grasp. The heart of the story is that one man, since his birth, and all the events for two generations preceding his birth, is the personal mirror of all the events of modern India, and all the events and details of those whose lives have touched his, have conspired to shape his own. They are in the story insofar as they are needed to reach whatever events and circumstances that meet that need, and then they are discarded.

It's a great book. A gleeful and deadly serious romp through history by a narrator who redefines "unreliable narrator." The storyteller, Saleem Sinai, is constantly pointing out the inaccuracies of his tale, and how his mind is rearranging things, or at least fine-tuning them to suit his needs, but as a way to make a greater sense of them. As the tale goes on, there is an ever-more-desperate and ever more transparent need to swirl the events of history around him, until, finally, he reaches a scene where he's too tired or too far in his tale to fold one more "event" into his own.

Next book: evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. He begins with a short romp through other evolutionists' human-centric "conceit of hindsight" view that all evolution has been leading to its final, finished product: us, and how we tend to assign value to all events and species and ancestors that lived for this purpose - to be a signpost to modern humans. Dawkins begins with us humans as a "starting point" for his journey backwards in time, but points out he could just as easily begin with elephants or bumblebees. We're all going to converge in a short time anyway on our trip backward through time.

The book before these was Marilynne Robinson's Home, which was a microcosm of one family, with special emphasis on the wayward black sheep of the family, Jack Boughton, with his story not so much told, as divined from around the edges of the family history, which itself is told only around the edges of heartache, regret and love, wrapped in a blanket of religion and an almost desperate search for God and meaning.

Different lenses, same need for meaning, misguided or not. Meaning is the construct we humans search for endlessly. Living in the moment is another construct we seek, but separated from meaning, I don't know what that would look like. We wouldn't have a concept of living in the moment without meaning. It's certainly what most animals do - live in the moment - because they have no other choice.

To "wrap in" one more piece, last night Jon and I watched the movie Groundhog Day with the kids. We hadn't seen it in years and though it would be fun to share with them. The ultimate movie about living in the moment AND doing it with meaning. Bill Murray is consigned to living the same day over and over until he gets it right. Letting go of everything and embracing everything is his task. After thousands of attempts, he finally nails it, not because of the details but because he finally really cares. It's when he resigns himself not to trying to get out of the endlessly repeating day but to really living in the day that something changes.

It does make me think of the endless cycle of history, how things repeat, how a million years is just a day in the larger timescale of the universe. It's a little TOO big for me to ponder further right now, so I'll leave that for Saleem, Jack, Richard and Bill Murray. I have to eat breakfast and get to a dentist appointment and pack for Thanksgiving weekend in L.A.

But it's been fun visiting. Nice to see you again, and Happy Thanksgiving!