Hyperbole alert: my parents have given me and my sisters uncountable great gifts over the past 6 and a half decades, starting with, y’know…life. Nurturing. Education. That ol’ stuff.
But this one? This one’s right up there, beyond bicycles and maybe even musical instruments. It’s a slow-mo gift, for sure, but it…has…begun: my parents are starting to divest themselves of Things.
I can’t call it “de-cluttering,” because most of it is great stuff: sports equipment, books…more books, more sports equipment…OK, that’s pretty much my family in a nutshell. They also have a lot of art, but I don’t think they’re giving that away just yet.
Most specifically, my mom startled me this week by mentioning the “bare shelves in the living room.” Now, I knew of my dad’s plan to donate all his science books to the Duke Bio-Sci Building’s Student Reading Lounge–a place dedicated to the delicious art of book-browsing, a practice that’s gone the way of the card catalogue. But I didn’t realize he meant to donate them, like…now! So I got my mom to send me some pictures.
Here’s the “before”:
And here’s, well–now:
Clearly, there’s still one shelf to go…but I kind of hope it stays there as a reminder of all those decades.
To give a sense of the history of our house’s book-walls, here’s me and my mom and sisters with our grandparents back in…let’s say 1964.
So. Let this be a lesson to me. What lesson? Pick one: Never too late to divest yourself. Never too old to surprise your children (my parents are about to be a combined 179 years old). Never too old to make a difference in this world. Or just to finally do what they made us girls do, and Clean Your Room!
What’s next? Stay tuned. My Amazing Parents continue to amaze me.
You: “Omigod this BOOK. It’s so INTENSE. The plot is masterful, and the details are so IMMERSIVE. It has a total hold on me.”
Friend: “Wow, sounds like I should read that next. What’s it called? Can I borrow it when you’re done?”
You: “Ummm…sure. But it’s also really super sad. It’s kind of bumming me out, to tell the truth.”
Friend: “Oh. No thanks. I don’t need more of that in my life.”
You: “But it’s so GOOD!”
My latest engagement with an entry in the Bummer-of-the-Month-Book-Club is the Pulitzer winner The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. It’s been around a few years, and only fell into my hands by accident–somehow finding its way onto my bedside pile without any known recommender. I picked it up and, as perfect illustration of the cliche, found myself hooked by the first page.
Damn it. Had I read the blurbs, I probably would have passed. But I’m not a blurb-reader.
This book is PAINFUL to read. For starters, it’s set in North Korea. Additionally, it’s set in North Korea. And, as if that weren’t enough–North Freakin’ KOREA.
But those Pulitzer-givers know a thing or two about literature. Not only does the book twine different genres–identity odyssey, thriller, love story–it also switches point of view here and there, from close-third person narrative of the main character, to state-run propaganda blasts repurposing the very story you are reading, to a first-person accounting, up close–way too close–to North Korea’s vicious prison “life,” by an unnamed but increasingly conflicted interrogator.
And the writing? I’ll let it speak for itself.
“Jun Do’s reward for these achievements was a listening post in the East Sea, aboard the fishing vessel Junma. His quarters were down in the Junma’s aft hold, a steel room big enough for a table, a chair, a typewriter, and a stack of receivers that had been pilfered from downed American planes in the war. The hold was lit only by the green glow of the listening equipment, which was reflected in the sheen of fish water that seeped under the bulkheads and constantly slicked the floor. Even after three months, Jun Do couldn’t stop visualizing what was on the other side of those metal walls: chambers of tightly packed fish sucking their last breath in the refrigerated dark.” (p. 40)
I would love to be able to talk with someone about this book, to discuss questions and groove over passages. But I don’t want to give it to anyone without warning, and most people, once warned, sensibly pass. That got me thinking about other books in this category. Here are a few that come to mind:
The Spectator Birdby Wallace Stegner. He’s one of my, let’s say top three, favorite 20th century authors. Angle of Repose, his Pulitzer winner, is incredibly sad, but I can still recommend it to anyone, especially over the age of 30. But this book kind of destroyed me for a while.