Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book ends.

I finished a book today, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Though it is very small, it took me days to read instead of hours. Elizabeth checked it out for me when I visited her and her library last week. When I thanked her she told me it's what she does. I could only read a few pages at a time. I was unable to escape feeling some measure of how much this book cost, how much the author had to give.

I already want to go back, to reexamine the words Bauby chose to write, the words that he formed and manipulated in his mind before blinking them into existence, before blinking them into another's pen because he could not lift a pen to write himself. Once a distinguished editor, this man could not move at all, except for the fluttering of a single eyelid and a sideways turn of his head. It's clear that he wrote to prove something, to do away with the Parisian rumor mill's deception that he'd shrunken into a vegetable. Though his body is lifeless his mind is strong.

"My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court." Later, "I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.."

My favorite part describes his letters. Those most serious in nature, the ones focusing on existential questions, were written by people he barely knew, or knew only on the surface. "Their small talk had masked hidden depths." He wonders if it takes "the harsh light of disaster to show a person's true nature." Other letters describe very simple things, "small events that punctuate the passage of time: roses picked at dusk, the laziness of a rainy Sunday, a child crying himself to sleep," but for him these are the most meaningful--the most beautiful and also the most sad. "Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest."

And while I am working on two other books: Life of Pi and Existentialsim: a Very Short Introduction, I took another from my shelf. Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. I have come back to this book many times--each time to read the same letter, the same meeting--but this time I continued reading, continued turning pages until the very last. I read every line I previously marked, every page I dog-eared, every word scribbled in cursive pen along the margins and in between the lines. When I finished I asked myself what I was trying to find, what I was trying to discover. I'm not sure anymore. I'm not sure I knew when I took the book down, or when I opened its pages. I only know that it came up in a conversation last night, in a car driving from Boston to Cambridge. Its likely I wanted to remember the words I was trying to explain, to understand why they often seem so relevant to me. Maybe I wanted to find myself in the stanzas, or the person I was when I encountered them for the first time, when I held the pen that made the markings, when I bent the corners and scrawled my own handwriting beside the perfect type. I used to think I was like Tatiana in this book. I don't think that anymore. Or maybe I am like her, just early her. I'm not yet as calm as she becomes or as reposed.

1 comment:

Jendar said...

im glad to hear that you area reading so much despite the demands of grad school. im trying to do the same. i have like ten books in my shelf waiting to be read. i am currently reading a book called "eat, love and pra." it is about a woman who lives a year abroad. four months in italy, four months in india and four months in indonesia. so far is entertaining. not super deep. but entertaining. and most of all it makes me want to travel to some far away exotic land. about the book you are talking about, ive wanting to read it for the longest time. i need to add it on my goodreads.maybe ill read it next.