Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Mixtape

i made you a mix tape of all my favorites from this week!

We had a silly, relaxing, nap-full week in the Poconos with my extended family -- 19 of us in all.  I'm sure the mamas of the two-year-old and the four-year-old and the six-year-old would have liked it to be more nap-full, but this mama is past that stage and so grateful when it comes to a good, old-fashioned summer afternoon nap.  Really, it's one of my favorite pastimes in the whole world -- snuggling up with a good library book, a cold cup of something -- condensations dripping down the sides of the glass -- and a good, strong fan blowing in fresh breezes.  It makes me want to fall asleep just writing those words!

I managed to consume large quantities of cultural goods and my lists are chock-full this week.  Hope you enjoy!


My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

For about eight years I've been collecting lists of books recommended by people I admire.  This novel is probably the fiction title I see most often, but for one reason or another it's taken me all this time to actually read the book for myself.  I liked the book, liked the characters, loved the setting and conflict in the mid-twentieth-century Brooklyn, the Hasidic community of Crown Heights, to be exact.

If it's a good characteristic of a novel to leave the reader in more conflict than resolution than this is a great book.  I really don't know how I feel about little Asher Lev and even less of the Asher Lev, come of age.  I am fascinated by the conflict of his religious upbringing and his artistic ambition, obsession, really.  He is a child prodigy and seems to have no say in the matter of his avocation, even drawing in crayon on the wall in his sleep.  Sensually, and all other ways, he lives his life through the grid of a painter.  There is a sympathy for the relational strife this causes with his parents, father especially.  I'm frustrated with the myopic attitudes of his activist-absorbed father -- how can he not see the similarity of his son to his own overreaching ambitions?  At the base of it, I guess, he doesn't see art as worth anything.  That's the problem.

And, I'm guessing why this title lands on so many "suggested reading" lists of artists and Christians.  The fundamentalist approach to utility at all costs overlooks any value in the useless forms of beauty, the invisible made visible.  Perhaps, my favorite character was the Rabbi ("Rebbe") for at least sensing the paternal responsibility to "train up a child in the way he should go".  But, honestly, who gets away with what Asher Lev gets away with?  I struggled feeling sympathy for this totally self-absorbed child.  Who gets to live that way?  Not that I blame him, inverting into himself to survive the emotional upheavals of his mother's nervous breakdown after the death of her brother.  At times, I wished I could insert myself into the story as the family counselor.  Between that and wishing to find my own therapy for never feeling the permission to set the kinds of boundaries that little Asher sets for himself, intrinsically understanding his greatest call in life is to  paint and draw.  To learn art. Study art. Make art.  He does his best to honor his father and mother, to learn Torah, to follow religious practice.  But, at the end of it all, he can not resist the superseding forms of beauty in nakedness and beauty in suffering.  The very aesthetic of cross-shaped suffering has more power over him than any other symbol in all his familiar ritual. It rules him, at the loss of home, family, place.

I have sympathy for this predicament, but I'm also jealous of the stark conflict he allows himself.  He is never conscious of a decision between his art and the rest of his life.  His life is fueled solely in image and palette.  His relationships are formed around those values.   There is no real conflict, the decision is made for him at birth.  The rest is just consequence of something that seems out of his control.  In some ways, that seems like it would be the easier route than all this fussing about calling and ambition and relationship and paychecks.  Those of with lesser natural talent not only have to fight for training and skill, but also fight the knowing -- am I an artist or not?  Where do I place my allegiance?  Hanging out with friends, cleaning my house, working a part-time job to pay a mortgage -- every single one of these choices threatens the uncultivated gift lying within. Maybe I should have read this novel when I was in a more sympathetic mood?  Or, maybe, the point isn't to sympathize with Asher Lev but with the rest of us poor saps trying to make sense of this crazy ambition?

Either way, it's a good book.  I'll read it again.  Maybe I'll even read the sequel -- although how Asher Lev manages to get himself a wife who will  put up with his obsessive-compulsive art making PLUS give him children, I'm not sure I'm going to believe.  We'll see about that.

  • Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces

by Robert Clark

I just finished reading this non-fiction title for July's IAM Reader's Guild selection.  I'll post my thoughts in a couple of weeks, after we meet.  If you're local, we'd love to have you join us for the conversation!

Tuesday, July 27, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
The Murphy's house, 106 Jefferson Ave., Endicott
RSVP to me:
Bring your book, discussion guide and a snack or beverage to share!

*I'm not sure if I ever  posted the link to my review of Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away.  If not, here it is.

  • How to grow Zinnias:  Not sure if I love the advice or Jared from Stone Soup Farms better?  Either way, I'm a happy student!
  • In Search of Coconut Milk:  We've been seriously deprived of humor around here lately.  This post, by the creator of Dilbert, was just the thing.  (Thanks for the link, Dan!)


    • Driftwood:  We saw this band at a live music event in a Binghamton park last night and were totally impressed!  It's not often that we hear a band from this area with this kind of quality.  Seriously, look up their show schedule and go see them.  The fiddle alone made me cry!  Plus, I hadn't ever heard the term "Shanty-Rock", have you?!?  Shanty-Rock is my favorite and I didn't even know it.


    • Inception:  I saw it today with Brian and my head is still messed up. For a decent write-up of one viewer's thoughts, check out Brett McCracken's post.  My opinion lands somewhere just to the left of Brett's and to the right of Commenter #4!
    One problem with the film was that every single time one of the characters referred to "the dream within a dream" all I could think of was this...

    Have a great week!
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