pityitspithy

Depth in the Shallows

Month: December, 2016

In Warm Blood

The King Of Kings Arrives

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

If people remember Truman Capote these days, it is almost exclusively for the book In Cold Blood. This has been reinforced by two movies in the last decade or so treating of the Kansas farmhouse murders (Capote and Infamous). And while this book is important in its own right—kicking off a new genre of literature—it is too limited for anyone to come to a full appreciation of Truman Capote. Known more for his antics and parties, his literary feuds (with Norman Mailer and others), and for another book that never came, Capote is, it seems to me, at his best in this story.

A Christmas Memory is a short story, mostly autobiographical, about a young boy and his elderly female cousin. It is about being poor in Alabama in the 1930’s, about a relationship across the canyon of age, and about the richness and mystery of love. It is a charming, heartwarming, and melancholy tale. This is no Hallmark movie. It is the happy, hard, and ultimately holy story of Love. It is a superb Christmas story that calls to mind the Christmas Story born in Bethlehem ages ago. Merry Christmas.

“As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”

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Living Water In The Desert Sands

Fullness In The Empty Quarter

Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger

Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003), actually Sir Wilfred to be exact, was a British adventurer and writer. Born in Addis Ababa, he spent many years as a participant in African politics and military affairs. Following WWII, he twice trekked across Saudi Arabia’s Rub’ al Khali, also known as the Empty Quarter. An enormous ocean of desert, Thesiger sought hardship in the vast emptiness as a means of living in full. He had a special love and reverence for the Bedouin way of life. No Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up for this guy. He didn’t need to read a book to simplify his life, he simply did it.

In Christianity, the practice of going to the desert to battle demons was especially prominent in the first centuries after the death of Jesus. The early Desert Fathers and Mothers wanted to simplify life to its essence. Work and prayer, overcoming temptation, all under the watchful eyes of God, led these early monastics to great feats of privation and endurance. They became known as “athletes of God.” Today, the desert still has figurative meaning. Many of us speak of being in a spiritual desert. Whether from a death, illness, or other loss, we find life clarified by the emptiness. That is, if we are awake. We often fall back asleep, seeking riches but depriving our spirit. It is to the sleeping that Thesiger speaks, echoing the voices in the desert long ago.

“In the desert I had found a freedom unattainable in civilization; a life unhampered by possessions, since everything that was not a necessity was an encumbrance.”

My Dirda Little Secret

I Wanna Be Like Mike

Books, Essays, & Reviews by Michael Dirda

If you aren’t much of a reader, he will make you want to be. If you are an avid reader, he will make you think a lifespan too short, no matter how long it is. If you think reading is the same as breathing, and you obsess over stacks of unread books, and you keep accumulating books, on Kindle or in stores, even though you know it is mathematically impossible to read them all, doing nothing else, by the time you die, even if you live forever, well…this man will still remind you what you are missing in BookWorld. He is Michael Dirda, reader, author, and guide to all things bookish.

Make no mistake, he is no snooty aesthete who looks down on popular publishing as low brow for the low down. A fan of science fiction, detective stories, and supernatural tales, Dirda offers something for everyone. Even when he writes of classical literature, art, and poetry (provinces of the pretentious, both in readers and critics), he does so as a kind of Everyman Reader. He writes as excitedly about ghost stories as he does about the classics. Many times I have read a column of his in the Washington Post, Barnes & Noble Review, or New York Review of Books, and immediately ordered books he reviewed  or referenced, or started reading the ones I had. And any recommendation Dirda made, has yet to disappoint. For some, reading about books is as pleasurable as reading books, but Michael Dirda makes you want to do both and nothing else. So give yourself a Christmas gift. Not another book, but the time to read it. Then do it.

“For me, the two weeks between Christmas and Twelfth Night have come to be reserved for desultory reading. The pressure of the holiday is over, the weather outside is frightful, there are lots of leftovers to munch on, vacation hours are being used up.”

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