Lessons of The Giver

Mphoto-1-2emory, of both the best and the worst, is central to guidance. Without it, we forego paths that have led to prosperity, take paths that have led to ruin.

Further, memory is extremely personal, while at the same time supremely collective. We all have our own particular catalog of recollections, which we consult, as need be. But we are all also part of a greater story, and our lives intersect with each other in such complex and dangerous ways that the shared memory of what we have been to each other, and done to each other, must be sounded to direct how we are to live with each other. This we call history, and its caretaking is a solemn affair.

In Lois Lowry’s classic young adult novel, The Giver, brought to the screen August 15 in a very fine film version (with Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites), memory is not allowed to the individual members of the state. It is the repository of only one, who retains the past in case it’s ever needed. As he ages, he must pass—“give”—his storehouse to another.

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Aesop’s Fables Are Always in Fashion

the-wolf-and-the-craneCalled upon to present a gift to a small boy, I was asked to pick a book. I have no expertise in the area of children’s literature, so was left to select the things that I myself liked when young. That becomes difficult when you grew up in an era in which children were less cosseted and the books were more realistic.

Old Yeller came to mind, but the dog dies in the end and nobody can have that kind of thing anymore. The Yearling came to mind too, but the deer gets shot at the climax, so that likewise had to be set aside. Not because I wouldn’t have bought these books if I could find them, but I couldn’t even find them in the bookstore and didn’t have time to order.

Another particular favorite of mine was Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. It’s about two hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann, and the boy who raised them. There’s a lovely Indian myth about the rarity of a red fern, but it too touches upon the last things, and the book ends like Ole Yeller. It made a big impression on me though—I still think of it often—and it’s a shame that with all the wizards and dragons and junk going around, the lessons of such old tales can’t be learned now in favor of all these empowerment narratives that they foist upon the young. [Read more...]

Lavender and Pennies

Whenever you detect the mysterious smell of lavender in a house, it means a friendly spirit is passing through one of the nearby rooms. The fragrance has to come out of nowhere, I’m told, and it has to be strong. Otherwise, your mind is just playing tricks on you.

And if you see pennies lying around on tables and windowsills, that means the spirits have “been visiting” while you were out. Again, nothing to be alarmed over; just some of the everyday goings on in a world deeply infused with things from well beyond it.

All of this knowledge comes to me by way of a lady who’s worked for my family ever since I was a boy—call her May Iris—and has lived in the very same place since she was a girl. She knows all kinds of things like that, full of a wisdom that’s being lost at a rate too clichéd to remark upon.

For instance, she can distinguish, to the day, between blackberry winter, locust winter, and dogwood winter (in the South, important parts of spring; there’s a mesmerizing story by Robert Penn Warren called “Blackberry Winter”). [Read more...]

Hymn to the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is coming up, and if there’s any time of the year to be less serious, it’s now. On religious holidays, joy is the regnant mood, but there’s always a matched reverence about the affairs; the same is true of the major secular holidays—each with a “let’s take a moment to remember the reason that we’re here today” interlude. Perhaps only Labor Day comes close for pure secular fun-centeredness.

Then again, the Fourth has the underlying commemoration of our independence, a high-minded foundation that Labor Day doesn’t share. But to me, Labor Day is a kind of last hurrah, since summer is officially ending. Personally, that makes it bittersweet, as pit-of-the stomach school dread always hits me hard, regardless of my age, and is coupled with a primordial hatred of the cold weather to come.

So I’ll give the prize to July fourth for noisy, unsophisticated, flat-out enjoyment, and these things in particular: [Read more...]

Appreciating Andrew Wyeth

I’ve had a few nasty discoveries of late. All too often, I’ve found out that things I’ve always valued are considered to have very little value in the estimation of the going market. They’re just not worth as much as I’d believed.

“And why the hell not?” I’ll ask, irked, when given the dismissive news by financiers, appraisers, auctioneers, and agents—anybody whose expertise I’ve called upon for a valuation.

It doesn’t sit well, disillusionment—especially when you think the rest of the world has got it all wrong, and when you’d been counting on their tastes to be in line with your own.

So I wasn’t in the mood for more of the same the other day, after I went to The National Gallery of Art’s new exhibit on Andrew Wyeth. I like Wyeth very much, and after seeing the works—wonderful, evocative renderings of various portals in the farmhouses that he memorialized around his Maine landscape—I did a little research to learn more about some of the images.

Lo and behold, turns out Andrew is a favorite whipping boy of the modern art scene.

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