My name is Winston Hearn, and I am interested in life. Life in all its glory, horror, and mundanity. I read a lot in the interest of living an examined life, and this blog is where I post links I want to reference later and thoughts stemming from recent readings.
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Early in The Royal Tenenbaums the character Margot Tenenbaum is seen as a child running away to the Natural History museum with her brother Richie. It is a side note, a minor bit of character exposition, but I knew the minute I saw that I would love the movie.
The short scene was an homage to the book “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Konigsburg. This book, one of my childhood favorites, tells the story of two siblings who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and uncover a mystery. The book is a wonderful story that captures all the romance and innocence of youth as two kids hide out for weeks in a museum, exploring a different wing every night.
When my siblings and I would play outside (nearly every afternoon that it was warm enough) we would build forts in the woods and pretend that we were orphans. In our minds, the retired neighbors mowing their yards were cops searching for us, and the drainage ditch behind their house was our main path between forts. We spent countless days making our forts and the stories that surrounded them ever more elaborate.
A third of the way through Wes Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, the main female character Suzie remarks that all her favorite characters in the books she reads are orphans, and she thinks that orphan’s lives are “more special.” Sam, her male co-adventurer and an orphan himself, pauses, looks at her, and then tenderly responds “I love you, but you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Yet even as Sam rebukes Suzie’s romantic thoughts on his plight in life, he is leading her on an adventure that reveals his own romance. They are running away, attempting to ditch all their problems and start over together. He may not think orphan’s life is special, but he thinks there are things in life special enough to pursue. As I watched them on their adventure I couldn’t help but recall From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and all the similar books I read as a child.
The film took me back to when I was 12, when I read books like Suzie reads, when I had the world figured out like Sam, and when the idea of running away seemed like a fun and exciting thing to do. It perfectly captured the romance of youth, without stepping into parody or sentimentalism. Anderson has created a film that is unique - I can’t think of a counterpart in recent memory. The film exists in the tension of the pause that comes before Sam responds to Suzy; in the fleeting moment of romance before we encounter the wisdom of experience.
“A green hunting cap squeezed on the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.”
-A Confederacy of Dunces (by John Kennedy Toole)
(I have a hard time visualizing descriptions that I read in novels so I thought I’d take this vivid description and try to bring it to life as a sketching exercise. I forgot to color in the visor of the hat, but overall, I’m proud of it as a 5 minute sketch.)
Just Saturday I was remarking at the mediocre (read: not very cheap) prices at McKay’s here in Nashville. Then yesterday, I got this entire stack of books for $25, and 14 of that was due to the top 3.
The increased signal to noise ratio was partially due to the fact that all literary fiction has been separated from general fiction, which means you don’t have to hunt down that wall of Oversized Fiction” just to find the good modern novel you’ve been wanting to read. I am very happy about this change.
As I walked across the street to go to lunch I was thinking about why I read. I am best described as a compulsive reader, I read as much as time allows and I read whatever falls into my hands; magazines, novels, essays, childrens books, whatever catches my fancy. As Chabon’s essay explores, there is a definite entertainment aspect to it, but there is something more too.
When I was a kid I was a notoriously fast reader. I would go to the library and check out the maximum amount of books possible, and once I finished reading them I would start reading the books my sister has checked out. When I read I love to enter new worlds, to see the world through as many eyes as possible. Literature is a fantastic way to explore the world on the cheap.
In my short career as a reader I’ve seen the world from the point of view of a talking mouse who drives a motorcycle, I’ve lived with the torment of a Russian city crowding around me as I deal with the murder of a helpless old woman, I’ve run from a genocide in Sudan as a child and been on both sides of Apartheid in South Africa. I’ve been a mistress in India to a rich old man, seen the destruction of a marriage due to infidelities, run with the Wild Things and been an orphan in a box car.
There’s the old adage that sometimes you have to leave home to find it, and while most literature is explored from the comfort of your home, when you return from the pages you have new eyes with which to view your home.
I have of course, been none of these people in reality, but the more honest and true an author is, the more I am able to step into these people’s lives and see the world anew.
I always seem to be a simple step away from assuming that my understanding of the world is correct, that my experiences and my knowledge and wisdom are perfect; that I am somehow omnipotent. Literature (and all good art) is a great barrier against me making that step - as I see the world from other people’s eyes I am continually reminded how limited my vision is, how little I know.
I read because I love it and because it is entertaining on a certain level, but also I read because I want to understand the world better.