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July 2009

Helene Hanff Portrait Update.

Many thanks to "Catherine from Oz," who commented yesterday and shared a URL where many more portraits by the artist Elena Gaussen can be found--including two portraits of Helene Hanff* that I'd never seen (and the credit for photographing these beautiful portraits goes to Penny Young-Meyer). Thanks, Catherine! I'm glad someone out there knows how to use this fancy thing called "the Internet." (And thank you, Penny!)

In other news, today is the first day I'll be posting over at BookNinja, although actually we got started yesterday, because evidently we're all go-getters. Except, oh yeah, I'm not a go-getter. I have a feeling I'm out of my depth around the other bloggers, who seem very up on book news (and also know their way around the Internet, as several of them have referenced their RSS feeds, which I am personally too lazy to set up). So wish me luck.

*My favorite is the portrait of her in her home office, surrounded by books.

Anything but gone tomorrow.

Although Mr. CR would beg to differ, I'm really not a hard girl to please when it comes to movies.* I have two criteria that are crucial to my enjoyment of a film: that movies be the right length (meaning, unless they have a spectacularly complex story or otherwise merit it, they not be longer than 90 minutes--VERY FEW movies need to be longer than 90 minutes), and that I think about the movie the next day. If I give the movie a bit of thought the next day, that counts as a movie I've enjoyed.

Kluge To some extent, these criteria work with books too. Very few books need to be longer than 250 pages long, and if I think about them as I go about my life, well then, I've enjoyed that book. One novel I've read this summer that I've particularly enjoyed (and I know I enjoyed it because I've thought about it a lot since reading it) was P. F. Kluge's Gone Tomorrow. I actually finished this one a month ago but have been sitting on it until I had time to write a "really good post" about it.

Yeah, well, I guess I'm figuring out that's not going to happen. (Either on the time or quality scale.) The story's set on a small liberal arts college campus in Ohio, where the author George Canaris has taught most of his life, where he's pushed into early retirement, and where he dies. When the book opens, a new faculty member that he chose as his literary executor is going through his house, looking for the novel George had supposedly been working on for thirty years. (Canaris had published a few early books to wide critical acclaim, been offered the faculty post at the college, and then never wrote anything again.)

The novel's told primarily in flashbacks, illuminating George's life at the college and his work on "the Beast," as he came to refer to the book that all his fans were waiting so patiently for. In a way, this novel's a dream for anyone who has ever wished they could get to know an author (any author they love) over the course of their life, because that's exactly what happens here. You get to know George. And, at least in my case, you really like him.

So. What happens? Did George actually write one last novel? Will it be found? Will it be as well-received as his early works? You'll just have to read this one to find out. In the meantime, I'll just leave you with my favorite bit from the book, and one which sums up my life's philosophy as well as any other:

"I had not prepared what I was going to say. I was winging it. And that felt right. What occurred to me was a paradox: that even as good writing and its inevitable counterpart, good reading became more marginal, those of us who read and wrote believed in it more passionately. When fiction was central--when even a U.S. president might read a novel--you could take and leave books, as you liked. When it became endangered, when the very act of writing was like sticking a message in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean, then reading, too, was a matter of life and death. We were a club, all of us, a freemasonry, and an underground."

I love everything about that paragraph. And I loved this book. Along with Tom Drury, P.F. Kluge counts as one of those authors I can't believe I'd never read before.

*Although my unreasonable dislike of Tom Hanks means we can't see any movie with him in it. Other than that I'm flexible.