Friday, March 09, 2007

May I Suggest...?

A couple of years ago, my friend Becky introduced me to the wonderful British literary magazine Slightly Foxed. She mentions it herself over here. I’ve been wanting to subscribe to it ever since, but it’s incredibly expensive for us Americans to do so, so I’ve been putting it off. Recently, though, I’ve been given some monetary gifts, and I’ve decided to treat myself to it for a year (which will, of course, turn into more than a year, once my subscription runs out, but I’m hoping I’ll have more gift money by then). Sometime shortly before that, my former boss had lent me a collection of Algernon Blackwood stories that included The Wendigo and a book by Kingsley Amis called The Green Man, both of which were wonderfully scary. (Amis surprised me. I’m not a big fan of his, he being one of those smug, “look how clever I am. I’m more clever than you are” sorts of authors.) Earlier this week, Charlotte posted on her experience reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.

You may be wondering what all these things have in common. Well, put such things together in my brain and toss them around in that empty space resembling one of those old-fashioned tumbling barrels in a fun house, and they’ll bump into each other. They may not exactly bond, but connections will be made, and they will stick to each other, at least for a little while. The Scotch tape for Slightly Foxed, stories that terrified me, and Julie and Julia is the word “suggestibility,” a word my brain woos with an ardent passion every chance it gets, but most often when I have the written word in front of me.

They happen to all be perfect examples of how susceptible I am to suggestion when I read. These years later, I’m still amused by the fact that when I read Slightly Foxed for the first time, a magazine that doesn’t exactly review books, but rather, has people write about books/authors they like, I found myself thinking, “Maybe I ought to give The Scarlet Letter another try.” In order to understand how absurd this is, you need to know how often since high school, I’ve “given this book a try.” It’s one of those books that’s alluded to so often in our culture, it’s a shame not to have read it. But I just cannot get into it. Here I was, however, reading how much someone else enjoyed it, and I was convinced it must be the classic to beat all American classics and a delight from beginning to end; my own feelings and opinions just being tossed out the window in favor of those of someone I’d never met.

The Wendigo and The Green Man are both stories created from wonderful, woodsy, mythical creatures. Probably because they tap into a primeval fear of being lost in the woods, they provided especially chilling pictures of themselves when I was reading these stories, and I found myself suspiciously looking out the window across the street to an undeveloped wooded lot where one of these creatures might decide to set up camp and keep an eye on me. Ridiculous. More than ridiculous. You don’t have to tell me that. But this lot is attached to the woods whose trail I trek for part of my morning and evening walk, and believe it or not, sometimes when I’m alone, and it’s a bit windy, and I can hear the fabulous, eerie creaking of the wood as that wind knocks the trees about a bit, I expect to look up and see some branchy, leafy creature lumbering towards me from a place far off the trail. This is an image completely placed there by having read Blackwood and Amis, as well as having recently seen an unrelated, but fantastic, movie called The Wendigo, whose setting is basically right where I live. I spent a good deal of my life living around wooded lots, exploring and building forts in woods, hiking all kinds of trails in all kinds of places, and never once did I imagine such a monster following me around (the furry Big Foot, whom I read about as much as I could as a child, yes, but not this fellow). Now, he’s there on many occasions.

Charlotte and others who commented on her post agreed that not only did Julie and Julia not inspire them to want to cook their way through Julia Child, but also that it did not really inspire them to cook anything from Julia Child at all. I wish I could be so unaffected. I read this book and immediately wanted my own copy of Julia Child, just at the point when the latest edition was being published. I found myself wondering if I could ever master the art of flipping a crêpe. If I were to buy and cook lobster, something to which I’ve always been opposed (I won’t eat lobster, not because I don’t like it -- how could one not like something that’s basically an excuse to eat tons of melted butter -- but because I feel so sorry for those creatures floating around in tanks with their poor little claws taped shut, and the idea of boiling them alive horrifies me), would I discover the same animal instincts Powell seemed to find buried inside once she started preparing lobsters? Is there something to the notion that we enjoy the kill as much as the food, but don’t want to admit it? And then there was the liver, which was just like The Scarlet Letter. I know I hate liver. No one has to tell me that. Unless it’s lovingly disguised in a delicious pâté or turned into Liverwurst, I don’t want to see it or smell it, let alone have to eat it. Yet, Julie, with her descriptions of how much she ended up liking it, had me second-guessing this knowledge. Thank God I’m married to Bob. My common sense had lapsed into a coma or something, but all I had to do was imagine his reaction were I suddenly to race out and buy a few pounds of liver to realize what a bad idea it was.

These are just a few examples, but give me a little more time, and I could probably come up with hundreds (actually, that should be hundreds of thousands. Just the topic of illness alone could produce hundreds) of my 110th percentile ranking on the suggestibility scale. But, I haven’t got time. I’ve just heard something downstairs and need to go see if it’s the Green Man knocking at my door, and if no one’s there, I need to find a copy of The Scarlet Letter to peruse after I’ve whipped up a batch of crêpes for dinner tonight.

15 comments:

BikeProf said...

You really do need to read the Scarlet Letter. It's one of my favorite books.

charlotte said...

I love it that you're suggestible! I think it's a delightful quality. And if it makes you feel any better I have never read the Scarlet Letter either (though having seen BikeProf's comments, I think perhaps I must ...)

Anonymous said...

Ah, look at Bikeprof, all bossy with your reading list. Just kidding! (sometimes I worry about my tone...)
I'm suggestible in much the same way (surprise, surprise) - Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods turned my camping partners firmly against the possibility of attempting the Appalachain Trail but it encouraged me even more, and whenever I read an apocolypsetype book I always envision myself surviving a nuclear holocaust, making my way in the world...

Anonymous said...

My mind is very susceptible, but my body resists. Often my mind is still saying, 'but let's do it, come on, why not give it a go?' as my feet are walking away. This is pretty much always revealed as a good thing later on, but at the time my mind usually has a big huff about it.

Emily Barton said...

Hobs, is that a suggestion?

Charlotte, glad I'm not the only one not to have read it, but, then, you have the excuse of not being an American. And next time someone makes fun of me for being so suggestible, I'm going to point out what a delightful quality it is.

Court, as I was writing it, I just knew you'd be the one person I could count on to nod her head as she recognized her own tendencies while reading it.

Litlove, I need to trade my feet in for some that are a little more like yours.

Rebecca H. said...

I think the fact that my to-be-read list has grown from nothing to over 200 books in the space of less than a year shows just how suggestible I am ... it's grown so much because I get such great suggestions from bloggers of course.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, mine too!

BikeProf said...

Yes, Emily, it is a suggestion, but as Courtney pointed out, a bossy one. And Courtney--I feel the same way about Bryson and apocalyptic lit.

Rebecca said...

I did like The Scarlet Letter, but I can see why you found it hard to get into. As for suggestibility, my immediate reaction to your post was to make a note of The Wendigo and The Green Man, as well as the movie. Has GK lent you any Sylvia Townsend Warner stories?

Emily Barton said...

Bikeprof, not bossy at all, really. Call it "passionate." Bob runs around saying "You've GOT to read/see/eat, etc. this." One of our favorite moments was when one of our friends turned to him, and said, "No, Bob, I really don't." And believe me, your passion for the book has over the past year, made me think about picking it up again.

Becky, The Green Man kind of crumbles and becomes melodramatic at the end, but it's still worth a read. And GK recently mentioned Sylvia Townsend Warner to me, but has yet to lend me any.

Ian said...

My reading list grows exponentially (that's probably not the right word) each day I check out blogs by these brilliant people. I read at slug-speed so I'm going to see if I can just catch some beautiful shells as the tide of suggestions washes over me.
I'm also going to immediatly check out what this Julie and Julia is all about, haven't heard of it.

Emily Barton said...

Ian, I picked up Julie and Julia to read right after you'd left when you visited us in New York, and I ended up wishing I'd been reading it while you were there, so I could read stuff out loud to you. I think you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

I understand your suggestibility. I am the same way with The Great Gatsby as you are with Scarlet Letter. And just reading about wooded lots and creepy creatures weired me out and I'm sitting at my desk, at work in the middle of a large city. But I can see trees out my window and that's all it takes.

Emily Barton said...

Stef, oh yes. I am perfectly capable of conjuring up Green Wendigo Man in the middle of NYC.

Rebecca said...

Emily, I can lend you 'The Music at Long Verney' by Sylvia Townsend Warner. They are marvellous short stories. As well as 'The Wise Virgins' whenever you are ready for it.