My Book World
After reading Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, I don’t feel quite the same way. Perhaps the book gives a wider range to Beattie’s motivation for writing about Pat (née Thelma) Ryan Nixon. In the chapter entitled, “My Meeting with Mrs. Nixon,” Beattie speaks of having met Mrs. Nixon and daughter Tricia at a Washington D.C. department store while Beattie and her mother were also shopping for shoes. “Every salesperson in the area was pretending not to notice the Nixons. Mrs. Nixon sat with her coat folded on a chair next to her and shopping bags on top of it. Her daughter sat on the other side, with her coat on the chair next to her. The coats and packages were blockades, in case anyone wanted to plop down and visit. My mother was not even sneaking looks; she feigned interest in a mannequin being dressed in the lingerie department” (135). I sense that Beattie’s curiosity about Mrs. Nixon was spawned from this one observation. Though they chatted, I can’t think Beattie could say she actually met, was actually presented to the First Lady of the United States;I should think it was more of a chance encounter. At any rate, Beattie writes of Pat Nixon with a keen sense of speculative interest. She’s never interviewed the woman; she’s only taken factual information from sources any of the rest of us could have read had we wished to.
What might make this book interesting to many (writers especially) is that Beattie uses it as an opportunity to share what it is like to be a novelist. To build her case she sites poet Louise Gluck’s words about post-publication jitters: “Critical assault of a finished work is painful in that it affirms present self-contempt. What it cannot do, either for good or ill, is wholly fuse, for the poet, the work and the self . . . the ostensibly exposed self, the author, is, by the time of publication, out of range, out of existence, in fact” (262). So glad to hear someone else affirm what I’ve felt upon having a piece published.
In “The Writer’s Feet Beneath the Curtain,” Beattie discusses the art of writing dialogue. “Predictable dialogue condescends to the reader and makes us yearn for what we hear between the lines; paradoxically, bad dialogue sharpens our sense of what really might be said, what is being said under the surface and off the page, at first indistinct but building to a crescendo so that finally we’re happier sinking under the surface instead of floating at the top, stranded with characters who bore us” (152). Mm. Right words in the wrong book? I wonder if this volume isn’t the fulfillment of a contractual element: so many books delivered to the publisher in so many years. And this is what Beattie—the woman who has had 49 stories published in the New Yorker since 1974—comes up with? Mm.
Beattie ends her book with this nugget (and she may be so right): “You’ll be a different you if your words are ever published, and there will be less and less possibility of ever connecting with them in the same way. You erase yourself every time you write” (266).
Secret of a Long Journey
Items That Don't Recycle
Did you know the Lubbock recycling centers (and perhaps those in other cities) only accept plastic items marked with PETE (1) and HDPE (2) symbols. All the rest encircled by those triangles, 3-7, they do NOT accept. I kept a few of these items out of the trash to show how many of these so-called recyclable items wind up in Lubbock landfill. Should we be asking the city why? Should we be writing them letters? Dumping this stuff on their doorstep?
My niece gave me a book for Christmas, The Geography of Bliss by journalist Eric Weiner. To research the book he made a project of visiting ten countries—trying to find out what factors were involved in making individuals (or cultures) happy.
When the last tree is cut,
When the last river is emptied,
When the last fish is caught,
Only then will Man realize that he can not eat money (57)
I’m not sure the Bhutan writer is correct. Perhaps not even then will we as a culture realize money is indigestible.