Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Re-Reading Project: Fahrenheit 451

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

I read Fahrenheit 451 right after I read Lord of the Flies, in 1996 (and I read Animal Farm within the next year). I’m ashamed to say that I remembered little to none of the actual plot, though I remembered liking it best of the three books. I didn’t even remember the cover of the copy I first read, until I did an image search for the various covers and recognized this one:

Fahrenheit 451 cover 1996

Recognizing this, admitting this, seems to go to the very heart of Fahrenheit 451 and this project. Originally, seeing that I read these three classics within a year was part of my impetus for the Re-Reading Project. I remembered having passionate reactions to reading these three books in class, hating Lord of the Flies and loving Fahrenheit 451. But in the intervening years (and decades), the details eroded away and left behind just a residue of the strong feelings, an emotion, for the books.

My memory is a funny thing. It’s not as sharp as it once was, certainly, but there are some instances and moments that I can remember with almost mythic clarity, as if watching a film. I say that I have a visual memory – working at bookstores, I often forget the authors and titles of books, but I can take you straight to the last place on the shelf that I saw it. This kind of memory makes it difficult for me to quote books, t.v. shows and movies, even if I enjoy them. But it helps me to remember faces, textures, gestures.

So for all of these years, whenever someone would mention Fahrenheit 451, I wouldn’t remember the main character (Guy Montag) or the plot (fireman charged with destroying books and the people who hold onto them is awakened to the power of books and literally becomes a book himself). What I would remember is a synesthetic mash of emotion and feeling that couldn’t be separated from who I was in 1996 when I read it and who I had become since. In a way, all of my quarterly “reviews” reflect this inability to write truly objective reviews. I am too aware of my own experience, location and personality as filters for the media that I’m consuming.

I own a copy of Ray Bradbury‘s collected short stories, a massive book since rumor is that he would write a story each and every day. I once made a goal of reading one story per day to honor this spirit and commitment of his and perhaps managed four in a row before I got overwhelmed and distracted. I’ve come to know him more for his risky, bold, playful and strange stories and I use the idea of him writing a story every day to inspire myself and other writers. Imagine the permission he must’ve felt as a writer because every day was a blank slate for a new story. He could write anything and perhaps, this was the reason he wrote so many fabulous stories (more than 600). With that level of production, he couldn’t help it.

So this is what I took into my 2014 re-reading of Fahrenheit 451: foggy, synesthetic ideas from 1996 and Bradbury’s stories and rumored intense diligence as a writer. I was shocked by what I found because my emotional, nostalgic feeling for the book was absolutely correct, but the concrete reality of it, now that I have more of an understanding for the world in which it was created, the world which it was protesting, is stunning.

Since I no longer had a copy of the book, I bought a used copy of the 60th anniversary edition published the year after Bradbury died, with an introduction from Neil Gaiman. The introduction was the perfect way to re-enter this world and I could (and probably will) re-read it several times. This edition also contains supporting materials to provide context for the story.

Fahrenheit 451

And while Fahrenheit 451 is such a 1950s tale, it is both amazing and terrifying that it still serves to caution us about our relationship with technology, each other, independent thought and creativity. The “parlors” with wall-sized tvs and participatory entertainments in the book are basically a reality in our current age. It’s an uncomfortable irony that I finished Fahrenheit 451 on a day when I spent time with my parents, glutting ourselves on t.v. I don’t have a t.v. at home and as I love the medium, I often catch up with shows when I visit them. On commercials, I would reach for Fahrenheit 451 to read about Guy Montag’s increasing frustration with his wife Millie’s inability to tear herself away from the “family” in the parlor.

But Bradbury wrote for t.v. and film, so maybe I can be exonerated. Anyway, the wall-sized t.v.s and “families” in the “parlors” are not the inherent evil in this story. It’s the lack of free and individual thought, which media consumption can certainly contribute to, that is the real problem. As Montag learns in the the book, people gave up reading and books and individual thought long before it was taken away from them officially. That is always the danger.

I appreciate the opportunity to re-learn the lesson from this re-reading and I imagine I’ll need refreshers from Fahrenheit 451 and many amazing books, throughout my life. And then there are always these lessons from Bradbury (the first one of which I flunked and which at least one of my friends is taking well to heart). I suppose it’s never too late and I’ll be applying these lessons to the best of my ability during my upcoming residency month.

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The Re-Reading Project: Animal Farm

Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of the light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.

As soon as the light in the bedroom went out there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings. Word had gone round during the day that Old Major, the prize middle white boar, had had a strange dream on the previous night and wished to communicate it to the other animals. It had been agreed that they should all meet in the big barn as soon as Mr. Jones was safely out of the way. Old Major (so he was always called, though the name under which he had been exhibited was Willingdon Beauty) was so highly regarded on the farm that everyone was quite ready to lose an hour’s sleep in order to hear what he had to say.

I was fifteen when I first read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was a strange year of reading – classics in school, YA and Harlequin romances, horror and mysteries. I was omnivorous in my reading and that’s pretty much remained the case. It’s more fun that way.

While I remember liking Animal Farm in school, I think I knew even at the time that I wasn’t fully absorbing it. It seemed more accessible than a lot of what we were reading in class, but even then I could tell I was only skimming the surface. Still, I liked it so well that I held onto my copy all of these years. It’s been on all of my bookshelves, though like many of the Re-Reading Project books, I hadn’t re-read it since I was fifteen. When I put 90% of my books into storage earlier this year, I kept out the books for the Project.

Animal Farm

After re-reading Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm was refreshing. I read most of it while getting my car serviced for my Residency Road Trip. I’d remembered the broad strokes of the book fairly well, I found, but I’d forgotten (or never noticed) the subtleties of the story (what did become of Snowball? he “ran off” so much earlier in the story than I had remembered).

Along with Lord of the Flies and the last classic I’m re-reading this month, Animal Farm is classified as (among other things) dystopian fiction, though it’s clearly part of a far different wave of this sub-genre than the current offerings. It’s also classified as political satire and Orwell himself called it a “fairy story,” which makes sense if you define fairy stories by their portraits of ambiguous morality and the trope of depicting animal characters in place of human ones.

Perhaps I read Animal Farm too quickly for it to make much of an impression on me, because I found myself appreciating it more than enjoying it. I could see the incredible influence it’s had on other books, films, pop culture, etc. since it was published. As quick of a read as it is, it also feels like something Orwell could’ve written in an afternoon. While I know as a writer that this effortless feeling is in fact very hard to achieve, it can be a little too easy to dismiss the result. I realized that Orwell’s essays, many of which I read while in grad school, are probably much more impactful to me these days.

But an interesting thing happened a few days after I finished my re-read of Animal Farm. While watching the film Snowpiercer, I kept flashing back to various parts of the book, thinking: “Wow, I wonder if the director/graphic novelist consciously pulled from Animal Farm or if it’s so deeply entrenched in our global culture that it just popped in unconsciously?” On reddit and IMDb, there seems to be a pretty heated debate about whether or not comparing Animal Farm and Snowpiercer is appropriate. And then there’s this very smart comparison and breakdown of both Snowpiercer and Animal Farm. The author uses specific examples and real world examples to illustrate what I suspected instinctively as I watched the film.

Serendipity is an interesting thing, leading me in this case to re-read Animal Farm and watch Snowpiercer around the same time and both were enriched by the other.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg One: New Orleans to Atlanta

My last night in New OrLast night in Nola 8.23.14leans, I watched the Saints play the Colts at Pelican Bay with a few members of Peauxdunque. It was a great way to say goodbye (for now).

In the morning, I began the first leg of what I’ve decided to call the Residency Road Trip (like my Grandma Road Trip from a few years ago). I haven’t seen my family for more than 6 months, so I decided to head to Atlanta first and IMG_3548spend a few days.

I set off fairly early after filling up the car with everything I might need for the next month+. I’ve made this drive a few times over the years and usually it’s a headlong rush to get there. This time, I felt a lot more leisurely and some pretty cool things happened along the way.

First, in Mississippi, I made a new friend at a rest stop along the way. In the women’s restroom, of all places. Some of you may know that I’m not the biggest fan of birds (I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds waaay too young, plus relatives have had some as pets over the years). This first picture will give you an idea of how the Mississippi Restroom Incident began:

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus...

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus…

A lady had brought her pet bird into her stall, but he followed me around the bathroom. It was exactly like a scene from Jurassic Park, except an unseen lady inside a bathroom stall was reassuring me the bird wouldn’t peck me. I asked her if I could take a picture and she told me she’d take one of me with the bird.

I was thinking, “Um, no thank you…” and yet, this happened:New friend? 

“I’m glad you’re not afraid of birds,” the lady said. “I actually kinda am,” I told her. But you wouldn’t know it from this picture. Maybe this has cured me of my ornithophobia.

 

 

Later, in Alabama, I stopped for lunch at a place called The SThe Shrimp Baskethrimp Basket. I couldn’t resist the advertised “jambalya bites.” I’m usually pretty skeptical of any Louisiana foods ofjambalaya bitesfered elsewhere, but I was too curious to pass it up. I would’ve thought that if it could be deep fried, we’d have it in New Orleans, yet, I’ve never heard of such a thing. The waitress said she doesn’t eat spicy things, so she couldn’t tell me how they were. I didn’t find them terribly spicy, myself.

After lunch, I stopped in and saw Sis and her two boys, which was really good. I spent a few hours with them before getting back on the road to Atlanta. I’m excited to be here – looks like I’ll get to catch up with some old friends and dance tango while I’m here. I’ll let you know in the next Residency Road Trip post.

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Missing New Orleans

I was offered a place at an artist’s residency called Soaring Gardens for the month of September. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to finance a month of writing without a source of income, so I launched a GoFundMe campaign. While I haven’t yet hit my goal amount, I’ve been inspired and encouraged by the generosity and support of everyone who’s donated and that has made me more determined than ever that this is going to happen.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share a list of what I’ll miss about New Orleans while I’m gone for the month. I’ve picked 6 things for the 6 days left of the fundraiser, which wraps up next Wednesday, August 20th.

1. My communities of friends, fellow writers and artists and other tango dancers. All the coffee dates, writing meetings and tango events that I would otherwise attend were I here. This includes one regular Peauxdunque Writers Alliance meeting and a special tango workshop with amazing teachers.

2. Saints games! I’ll miss the first 4 regular season games, unless I can find a local bar and convince them to show the games. The house is very rural, so this could be touch and go. But even if I do manage to watch them while I’m gone, I’ll miss the experience of watching them with friends *here* at places like Pelican Bay.

3. Speaking of Pelican Bay, one of my favorite things to do lately is pick up one of their daiquiris and take it to Indywood Theater (they’re close to each other on Elysian Fields and Indywood is BYOB). I’ve seen so many amazing movies there recently and their August calendar looks great. I’m afraid to even see what I’ll miss in September.

4. While this isn’t technically a New Orleans thing (or in Sept), I’m going to miss the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Saenger on October 1st. I’ll be driving back from the residency then, unfortunately. Darn!

5. Whenever I’ve left Louisiana in the past, I’ve craved good red beans and rice as soon as I cross the state line. So I’m sure that will happen now. And I’ll miss the roast beef po’boy at Parkway Bakery. I’ll miss a lot of other favorite restaurants/dishes, too many to name, but I know I’ll miss being able to get those red beans and that roast beef po’boy. It’s only a matter of time.

6. I’m not sure what I’ll do without the New Orleans Public Library. While the house has a library, I have been so spoiled by our wonderful library system and librarians. Books, movies, music, all at my fingertips. They just had a wrap party for their summer reading program and had adult summer reading activities all summer as well. But, in any season, the library is my mainstay. I’m going to be very sad when I take all my borrowed books back, and when I suspend all my holds. That will be the moment when I’ll know this dream I’ve been working toward has become a reality.

I know I’ll miss so much more than this (and people will be the biggest part), but I think I’ll be surprised by what I’ll miss once I’m at the residency. Luckily, it’s only a month and I’ll be back for the Louisiana Book Festival and Words & Music and… It will be a lot of fun to enjoy those six things (and everything else) once I’m back, having missed them for a little while. I hope you’ll enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer in the meantime.

There will be a going away party/celebration this coming Sunday the 17th, starting at 2 p.m. at Pelican Bay. If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, send me off or just enjoy brunch and daiquiris, you should swing by.

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Anniversary August and my GoFundMe campaign

August is ridiculous with birthdays (soooo many people I love!) and anniversaries–marriage anniversaries (my parents, my sister and her husband) as well as two of my personal milestone anniversaries.

Seven years ago (7!) I moved to New Orleans. I’ve now been in Nola as long as I lived in Baton Rouge. Maybe I suffer from the seven year itch, because I was desperate to leave BR in 2007 and with all of the shakeups in my life recently, I’ve been wondering if I need to be elsewhere for a little while. More on that in a minute.

Three years ago, I went to my first tango class and started my journey as a tango dancer. Because the community of tango dancers worldwide is fairly small and they tend to travel a lot, tango has actually increased my desire to travel to new and favorite places. To dance with new communities and return to those I enjoy: Chicago, Atlanta and now D.C.

Which brings me to my GoFundMe campaign, which I launched about a week ago. I’ve been offered a place at Soaring Gardens, an artists’ residency in rural Pennsylvania. I get to live and write in this house for a month and I’m raising money to fund the trip. I’ll be working on new chapters of my memoir, Tango Face, named after the essay I wrote about the cabaceo, which won the 2012 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Awards in the essay category. The memoir is about what learning tango has been teaching me about myself and my relationships. The way people have been responding to what I’ve written so far has been very gratifying and has pushed me to continue.

Every year, I make my best attempt at 50,000 words during the month of November for NaNoWriMo, so I know I can write lots of new material in a month, especially since I’ll be removed from the distractions of my everyday life. Including my tango community, which is bittersweet. While I’ll miss dancing with them, it’s been really cool how supportive and encouraging they’ve been.

In fact, all of my communities have been extremely supportive through this process. I’m very grateful and inspired by all of you!

Be on the lookout for a NolaFemmes post soon about New Orleans-specific places and things I’ll miss while I’m gone.

On Sunday the 17th, at the 2-week mark of the GoFundMe campaign, I’m having a goodbye party and fundraiser celebration. It will be at Pelican Bay on Elysian Fields, starting at 2 p.m.

And the GoFundMe campaign will officially wrap up on Wednesday the 20th, one week from today. So, if you have $5 or $10 to donate, please do. Every single contributor will be named in the acknowledgements of the memoir when it’s published *and* I have secret lagniappe gifts to thank everybody. Plus, I’m planning a special Bragging On post just for contributors to share how talented and wonderful all of you are.

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The Re-Reading Project: Lord of the Flies

The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.

“Hi!” it said. “Wait a minute!”

The undergrowth at the side of the scar was shaken and a multitude of raindrops fell pattering.

“Wait a minute,” the voice said. “I got caught up.”

The fair boy stopped and jerked his stockings with an automatic gesture that made the jungle seem for a moment like the Home Counties.

The voice spoke again.

“I can’t hardly move with all these creeper things.”

The owner of the voice came backing out of the undergrowth so that twigs scratched on a greasy wind-breaker. The naked crooks of his knees were plump, caught and scratched by thorns. He bent down, removed the thorns carefully, and turned around. He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat. He came forward, searching out safe lodgments for his feet, and then looked up through thick spectacles.

“Where’s the man with the megaphone?”

I’ve reproduced so much of the opening here, because it only felt right to get to the moment where Piggy is fully introduced, in addition to Ralph, as they are the two primary characters of the book. In a way, the whole Re-Reading Project has been leading here, to Lord of the Flies by William Golding. When I first decided to do the project, this was the first book I knew I had to re-read, because it is the one book that I can remember actively hating. I read it once, freshmen year of high school. I liked other required reading: Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, CandideNative Son and even The Scarlet Letter and Grapes of Wrath. I geeked out over The Swiss Family Robinson. But I hated Lord of the Flies. When quizzed about why, I would cite an enormous plot hole that I felt the book contained. As the years passed, I couldn’t remember the specifics of this plot hole or why I hated the book. I wondered what I would think of it now, as an adult. Which led me to wonder the same about other books and thus, the Re-Reading Project was born.

For all of that, I was dreading this re-read as much as I was anticipating it. I’d hated this book for so long and I expected to be bored. I’ve never owned a copy of the book (I read a library copy, I believe, in high school), so last month I started keeping an eye out for a copy at the used book sale and bookshops. Then, right on time, I found a copy on the take-a-book-leave-a-book bookshelves at a coffeeshop I frequent (with a bonus cover from Marathon Man by William Goldman tucked into the back). It was the same version I remembered from school, the iconic one with the boy’s savage face peering out from the leaves.

IMG_2949

As I re-read, I very quickly found the source of at least 60% of my teen self’s dislike for the book. It is very British and I don’t remember learning anything about British culture while reading the book in school. Now that I’m a lot more fluent with British history, speech patterns and school structure (thanks mostly to yes, the Harry Potter series, as well as British writers like Lisa Jewell and Marian Keyes) I have a more solid understanding of what the heck the characters are talking about and the social structure the boys imitate unconsciously (and abandon) throughout the book. It’s a book about a bunch of boys who talk and behave like aliens, at least if you’re a teen girl in the 90s.

Also, it’s a little boring (more so if you’re a teen girl in the 90s with no context). Though I’m a woman in my 30s now and I understood a lot more of what was going on, I was still often bored. A good indication of boredom: it took me a week to read a book that’s less than 200 pages (I recently read a 400+ pg book in 24 hours). That’s a pitfall that parables are prone to, as the characters are relatively flat and are meant to represent personality types or ideologies. I didn’t really invest in any of the characters, either as a teen or as an adult. They’re not real people and are not meant to be, but represent aspects inherent in all people and cultures. But, after years of watching Survivor, I was fascinated by the conflicts that developed between the characters and later became insurmountable. As the story progresses and the stakes are raised, the story becomes more gripping.

At times, the descriptions are absolutely breathtaking. Golding could certainly write. But even when the action picks up and the boys are terrorizing each other, details are omitted or it’s hard to follow what is being done, to whom and by whom.

I had remembered (spoiler?) that Piggy died, but I had conflated the way in which he died with Simon’s horrific murder. I’d forgotten entirely that one of the littluns (with a purple birthmark on in his face) disappears, with barely any mention. Here’s another issue I had (have?) with the book: too many characters who are essentially background sketches. Because the book is a parable, the characters are only brought into focus when/if they’re needed and it’s unclear exactly how many boys are marooned on the island and how long they are there. It could be a week or six months. The only reference to time is the growth of the boys’ hair, but this is mentioned fairly early in the book, in Chapter 4. So, Chapters 1-3 are the first few days or week after they’re marooned and then we fast-forward a few weeks/months and the rest of the action takes place thereafter.

The lack of specifics was very frustrating to me as a teen and fairly frustrating to me on the re-read. I’ve grown to believe that the more specific the story, the more universal it becomes and I kept reaching for something to ground me in the story. But, as a parable, it consistently refuses to provide specific markers for its readers. In a way, this has worked well for Lord of the Flies, as it has remained a timely commentary about the darkness in the human heart for 60 years and has been listed on numerous Top 50 and Top 100 reading lists. But it won’t ever be a book I’ll turn to for entertainment or enjoyment.

One last thing that I find interesting about Lord of Flies now, almost twenty years after I first read it, is that it’s considered dystopian fiction, a genre that’s having a bit of a heyday now (as with the vampire resurgence brought about by Twilight, a lot of people like to pretend that the dystopian trend is brand spanking new, but it’s really not). A lot of new dystopian fiction is being published for young adults (though adults like me read it also), and Lord of the Flies is still taught to young people, and has influenced writers for decades.

What makes Lord of the Flies dystopian, I wonder? The barely referenced nuclear war that happens on the margins of the main story? The attempt by the boys to build a society for themselves on the island? The failure of this society, which is based on the society they have left behind? The main argument of the book seems to be how quickly humans can devolve from civilized beings into ungoverned creatures. There doesn’t seem to be a cure for our base nature, except for civilization, yet the book seems to be saying that society and civilization are doomed to fail (the boys are rescued by Naval officers who find them by chance while fighting their own adult war).

Dystopian fiction appeals to young readers, and is important for them to encounter, because it allows them to question their society and government by depicting an extreme example that is often not too far removed from their own reality, a world that they did not set into motion but must be governed by regardless. Dystopian fiction, especially what is published now, often depicts young people at the mercy of society and then fighting back, taking charge. This fiction allows young readers to realize that society is constructed and mutable, and hopefully wakes them up to their own responsibility in designing better social structures.

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: A Room with a View

“The Signora had no business to do it,” said Miss Bartlett, “no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh, Lucy!”

“And a Cockney, besides!” said Lucy, who had been further saddened by the Signora’s unexpected accent. “It might be London.”  She looked at the two rows of English people who were sitting at the table; at the row of white bottles of water and red bottles of wine that ran between the English people; at the portraits of the late Queen and the late Poet Laureate that hung behind the English people, heavily framed; at the notice of the English Church that was the only other decoration of the wall. “Charlotte, don’t you feel, too, that we might be in London? I can hardly believe that all kinds of other things are just outside.”

Thus begins E.M. Forster’s most popular novel, something I never knew when I picked it up at random when I was seventeen years old, newly graduated from high school, and very dramatic about attending a college I hated. At the time I picked it up, A Room With a View seemed like a message from God. The back cover’s description alone was enough to prove to me that this book was sent to me by a higher power to help me through this extremely trying period of my life:

“A young girl, Lucy Honeychurch, and her chaperon visit a tempestuous, passionate Italy…Soon Lucy finds herself bound to an obviously ‘unsuitable’ man, the melancholic George Emerson, whose improper advances she dare not publicize.”

Two things stood out to my childish mind: that “Lucy” was one of my many nicknames, and that the college I’d wanted to attend was Emerson College in Boston. It seemed like a weird coincidence and, believing in book magic, I bought the novel, thinking I knew what to expect. And to be honest, the book confused me a bit. I was unused to the “comedy of manners” genre—I wanted a love story. I got one, but it was far more complex than I thought; it wasn’t indulging my selfish teenage angst. But I read into it what I wanted and loved it just the same.

I read about the young Lucy Honeychurch, a passionate young girl with progressive ideals who is constantly manipulated by her domineering family and by societal expectations. Lucy finds her principles and passion ebbing away the more she conforms. At the center of her confusion are two men: the “unsuitable” George Emerson and her wealthy fiancé, Cecil Vyse. George Emerson is the brooding, passionate young man plagued by philosophical conundrums; the only thing he is certain of is his love for Lucy. Cecil Vyse, on the other hand, is a stodgy, stuffy, upper class snob who calls Lucy his “Leonardo” and is determined to make his middle-class sweetheart “one of us.” I cheered at the satisfyingly romantic ending and felt my teenage desire for a love story fulfilled.

Fast forward to 2014, when I decided to slide A Room With a View off my shelf for a long-overdue re-read. By now, the text had attained holy status in my mind. I knew I loved Lucy, knew I was in love with George Emerson, but I never quite grasped how little I understood when I first read the book. I opened the book once again with elation, with expectation. And I’m so so grateful that I did.

“It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”

This advice appears, from George Emerson’s wise father, toward the end of the novel. Lucy has broken off her engagement to the insufferable Cecil Vyse in the name of freedom, lying to everyone in her life about secretly loving George Emerson. Lucy is determined to quash her unsuitable love and flee from her feelings. When she meets George’s father, he is wise and kind enough to recognize her internal “muddle,” as he calls it: the unforgivable action of denying one’s feelings in favor of societal conventions. To achieve any kind of happiness and fulfillment, Lucy must say yes to Love, to Truth, to Joy. The “eternal Yes,” as the elder Mr. Emerson calls it.

This year, I found myself in a muddle similar to Lucy’s. I deceived myself just like Lucy does when she convinces herself she’s in love with the intolerable Cecil Vyse. I found myself believing I was in love because it was convenient. I wanted love so badly I thought I had found it.  I was too sentimental to realize the complexity of the emotions I mistook for love. I didn’t recognize that mixed in with infatuation was selfishness, the desire for love, and the desire for acceptance. I was in a muddle.

As I re-read A Room With a View, Mr. Emerson’s words smacked me like a strong wind against my face. Like Lucy, the scales fell from my eyes and I saw the whole of everything clearly. I read about Love, about the eternal Yes, and most important, about Truth. “Truth counts,” the elder Emerson  said. Truth counts. And the truth was that I loved the idea of love more than I thought I’d loved this person. I had strong feelings, but love was not the name of them. The truth was that I’d spent months calling something love that wasn’t, sacrificing my own happiness and barring me from finding something real.

Lucy found love in George Emerson, and reading the book again taught me the meaning of Truth and of being truthful to oneself. It made me see, very clearly, the machinations and manipulation of society, that it’s very easy to settle for something you think you want, because it’s hard holding out for something infinitely better.

“When I think what life is, and how seldom love is answered by love—Marry him; it is one of the moments for which the world was made.”

This year, during a visit to a secondhand bookstore, I stumbled upon a vintage edition of A Room With a View, embossed with a floral design and featuring pretty gold lettering on the spine. I bought A Room with a View x2it, and knew it was time to re-read. I love A Room With a View even more now than I did five years ago, and I know that I’ll return to it again and again.

 

***Lisa with A Room with a View

Lisa Loparo is a freelance writer and blogger living near New York City. She likes to eat chocolate and look at cat photos on the Internet. At her blog, The Most Happy, and on Twitter, she focuses on beauty and fashion, books, and culture.

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