Sunday, February 06, 2011

Revisiting Old Friends.

I felt like a real sham logging into "blogger" just now, because I have not been a blogger. I have been a shirker.

However, some things:

- I am currently blogging on another site about my attempts to reduce energy usage. Overall, it's a very cool project that also has participants from eight other countries. While you may think that phrases such as "energy diet" and "carbon footprint" are less than compelling (and you would be correct about this), in reality this blog involves lots of other matters that are undeniably fascinating, such as milk machines, sunflowers that dwarf children, going straight from a cross-continental flight straight to protest in Cairo and commuter pain in one of the world's worst cities for traffic.

- Prince is currently on tour, and I have not bought any tickets, nor do I have plans to buy tickets. My friends, who know (more or less) about my Feelings, have helpfully pointed out that he and I are going to be in California at the same time. He also was in NYC when I could have been there. And, well, I don't know. In NYC, ticket prices hovered around $150. They are lower in Oakland, but my time in the Bay Area is limited, and if he is going to drag Jehovah's Witness proselytizer Larry Graham out on stage, it's really best that I sit this one out. I'm excited that he's selling out arenas on short notice and still looks eerily the same as 20 years ago even though he's 52 years old, and that he's still rolling with Sheila E. But brothers and sisters, Prince is not even stopping in DC, and hasn't made an album I want to listen to in seven years, if I'm generous enough to include Musicology, which I am, but still. I refuse to acknowledge that our relationship is over, because he is Forever in My Life. But my affections have been sorely tested.

- Recently, I needed some reading material for the train and, a propos of nothing (well actually when I think about it it's because at my new workplace, there's a woman named Jo, which put the book in my subconscious, along with having read about the new Susan Cheever biography of its author), decided that I felt like re-reading Little Women. It seemed like the answer to my craving for characters and comfort.

As a child, I was given a whole library of abridged classics for young readers. I devoured 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Poe's stories ("The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Gold Bug," "Fall of the House of Usher") Treasure Island, Little Women.

Basically, I'm a sucker for any book that involves women sitting by fires, reading books, longing for excitement and anticipating "gay parties" or encounters with desirable gentlemen, maybe because that pretty much sums up my girlhood, except for the fireplace part. The March girls fit the bill.

When I took the Bantam paperback up to the register, the college-age cashier paused. "Oh, I read this when I was little," she said. "So did I," I said, a little surprised that girls now and girls then might still be reading the same things. "I thought I'd revisit it."

"Aw," she said in a way that suggested she thought I was kind of cute but also kind of sad.

Had I picked up a children's book? Was Little Women going to be less satisfying to re-read than, say, Jane Eyre or The Woman in White?

I'm sad to say it, but.... kind of yes. I've been struck by how Louisa May Alcott really hits you over the head with how wonderful and virtuous the girls are, not to mention with Jesus Christ.

The book opens at Christmas, when the four sisters are lamenting their fate of being poor and without their father, who is away during the Civil War. They know not to expect any presents, but their beloved mother (Marmee) promises that they will find something under their pillows in the morning.
[Jo] remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going the long journey.

"Girls," said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little nightcapped ones in the room beyond, "Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it, but since Father went away and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the table here and read a little every morning as I wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through the day."

I have a pretty high tolerance for pious, ridiculously upstanding heroines (Clarissa, holla), but this and other elements of the book bummed me out a bit, to be honest. I just remembered the March girls as being more earthy, more real. But then, I read this book at a time when I thought the Brady Bunch and Olivia Newton-John were spittin' truth.

So yeah, it was disappointing to encounter a book that felt less authentic than the first time I read it. But then Jo meets the Laurence Boy, and the girls bicker, and I'm all swept up again. Despite Alcott's heavy-handedness with the characterizations sometimes, I can't help but be charmed by passages like this:
There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still and loved her pets as well as ever. ...One forlorn fragment of dollanity had belonged to Jo and, having led a tempestuous life, was left a wreck in the rag bag, from which dreary poorhouse it was rescued by Beth and taken to her refuge. Having no top to its head, she tied [um hello Louisa, dangling modifier much? -- ed] on a neat little cap, and as both arms and legs were gone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket and devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyone had known the care lavished on that dolly, I think it would have touched their hearts, even while they laughed. She brought it bits of bouquets, read to it, took it out to breathe the air, hidden under her coat, she sang it lullabies and never went to bed without kissing is dirty face and whispering tenderly, 'I hope you'll have a good night, my poor dear.'

Reading that, and knowing what happens to Beth, well bless my own heart, I have to keep going, because this is where Louisa May Alcott becomes a cross between Beverly Cleary and Charlotte Bronte in capturing the young and the female Sentiments. So now I am more than halfway through Little Women, even though it makes me want to say "capital" instead of "great" and may be even more embarrassing to carry around than a Twilight book. But I do not care.

Music: "Old Friends 4 Sale"


  1. Anonymous12:24 PM

    I still listen to "Pink Cashmere" like its brand new. Oh, the B-sides.....

  2. Thank You. I was trying to upload the bootleg version of "Old Friends," and for some reason cannot get the link to it to work, so instead I am forced to put up a link to a snippet of the inferior version that was released. "Pink Cashmere" is another classic. If Prince would release an untampered-with "Better Place 2 Die" then all would be forgiven.

  3. The superb success of this last offering excited Teddy to such a degree, that he first threw his lamb into the conflagration, and before it had time even to roast, he planted poor Annabella on the funeral pyre. Of course she did not like it, and expressed her anguish and resentment in a way that terrified her infant destroyer. Being covered with kid, she did not blaze, but did what was worse, she squirmed. First one leg curled up, then the other, in a very awful and lifelike manner; next she flung her arms over her head as if in great agony; her head itself turned on her shoulders, her glass eyes fell out, and with one final writhe of her whole body, she sank down a blackened mass on the ruins of the town. This unexpected demonstration startled every one and frightened Teddy half out of his little wits. He looked, then screamed and fled toward the house, roaring "Marmar" at the top of his voice.

  4. Sorry! That was a contrasting Alcott doll moment, this time from Little Men.


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