Monday, March 26, 2012

You Choose

I just got done with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is  definitely one of those titles that's better in French (c.f., La Vie en Rose, Les Miserables).  L'Elegance du Herisson has a lovely lilt; The Elegance of the Hedgehog sounds like....hedgehogs.  Dressing up.  For hedgehog prom.

It's not a book I would have chosen for myself, is the point.  I mean, I suppose if it were a choice between hedgehogs and literary theory I'd say bring on the spikes, but given free rein...

And that's just it: Free rein is all mine.  We live, these days in a world of I-choose.  Businesses and even government figures compete to give me more of what I want, when I want it.  On-demand TV.  Radio tailored to my likes.  Ads micro-targeted to me, me, me.  Even books: Amazon dangles books under my nose based on what I've read before.

Which is where Book Club comes in.  In Book Club, rather than choosing my own adventure, I'm thrust into someone else's.  Coincidentally, this is the best part of reading: being plunged, forcibly, into someone else's world.  If we always choose for ourselves, how can we ever move beyond ourselves?

And so I meet hedgehogs, and elegance, half a world away from my couch.

Anyone else want to choose what I read?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Still Life with Yummy

Pursuant to my adoption of a puritanical, no-pouring-on-table-salt diet, I have gone through 6/7 of a bottle of Sriracha in one month.  Also, I no longer feel pain.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Two hours before the wedding, you are destroying, Godzilla-style, the shoe racks at Target.

How did you get here?

You are lazy.  Also, you are chronically short on time and you dislike footwear.  And stores.

And, OK, no, you didn't get around to shopping for bona fide grown-up shoes to wear with your bridesmaid's dress for your sister-in-law's wedding because, well, who wants to spend one's free afternoons cramming one's toes into money-sucking torture devices carved out of the tummies of baby cows?


You ransacked your closet six hours before leaving for Atlanta, at which time you discovered your shoes had once again failed to mate and reproduce when you weren't watching.   Lacking legitimate dress shoes, you lit upon your illegitimate shoes, the clompy Mary Janes with the comfort insoles you purchased six years ago to wear at the bedsides of hospitalized elderly people.  Your bastard shoes, leathery, strong.  Your Viking shoes, breasting the earth like boats.

At the hotel, your mother-in-law catches sight of these.  She hies you to Target where you stand, bewildered, before a pile of pumps.  She buys you three-inch heels, the only black shoes in your size.  You put them on and totter around like a carnie.  There is, it cannot be denied, a joy to failing to fall over.   Heels are a rebel yell, a barbaric, Whitmaesque yawp.

Suck it, gravity!

Two hours later your sister-in-law is getting married and your feet are threatening divorce.   You have been unfaithful to the smaller bones of your toes.  You have cuckolded your heels.  The balls of your feet broadcast their maltreatment in throbbing morse code.  The bride and groom are kissing and you are crying, probably because the ceremony is so moving, possibly because your feet are a towering inferno of pain.

It strikes you, not then but later, sometime between snuffling down the aisle and slipping those fuckers off under the table at the reception hall, that heels are not so different from weddings.   The same defiance; that brief suspension of doubt.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I Am Here

Atlanta, GA.

Friday, March 9, 2012


I enjoy the word smug.  It's got a certain, well, smugness.  With its neat, four-letter profile, its flirtatious initial cluster, it's fun to get your lips around.

I have a more uncertain relationship with the emotional state for which "smug" stands in.  There is a great deal of satisfaction in self-satisfaction, but there's also an irritating circularity: I enjoy myself, therefore I am enjoyable.  I am enjoyable, therefore I enjoy myself.

Not much room for improvement there, and I mean that in its most literal sense: if you're smug, you've kicked self-betterment to the curb.

I've been thinking about smugness because I've been reading about it.  In the evenings, with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a novel which, in its opening chapters, is notable for the smugness with which its protagonists skewer...smugness.  And, in the mornings, with this NYT editorial by Andrew Delbanco.

Delbanco's opinion piece, which riffs on presidential candidate Rick Santorum's now infamous attack on higher education, urges not knee-jerk condemnation, but rather introspection.  What if there is a needle of truth in Santorum's haystack of hooey, Delbanco argues, and that needle is lancing, painfully, the complacency of the elite?

After reaping the significant academic benefits that parental support, high socio-economic status, and cultural privilege have to offer, most freshmen shows up at, say, Princeton ready to learn.  Only 3% of their classmates will have come from families in the bottom 20% of earners.  Our freshmen have worked hard, it's true, but most of them had a head start.
"Yet once the beneficiaries arrive at college, what do they learn about themselves? It’s a good bet that the dean or president will greet them with congratulations for being the best and brightest ever to walk through the gates."
Does this beget achievement?  Maybe.  Does it forward good citizenship?  Probably not.
"In this respect, I agree with Mr. Santorum that our leading colleges could use a little more of their own old-time religion — not in any doctrinal sense, but in the sense of taking seriously the Christian virtues of humility and charity. In secular terms, this means recognizing that people with good prospects owe much to their good fortune — and to fellow citizens less fortunate than themselves." 
Delbanco waxes a little too wistful about "Christian virtues" for my taste, but I find his argument compelling.  It's easy to think highly of ourselves.  It's even easier to forget what we owe to one another.

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Am Here

North Garden, VA