Raiding the Shelves

For all the difficulty involved in traveling across the country during the emotionally-spiked holiday season, there are some definite benefits.  Perhaps the very best is taking a gander at the parents’ bookshelves and helping myself to a few selected works.  Between the storage bins in the garage, the shelves around the living room, and the particleboard credenza in the guest bedroom, I can usually find a handful of must-haves  to come home with me.  This time I picked up, “Roger Ebert’s Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, the finest writing from a century of film,” which should keep me well-gorged into the new year.  I was suckled on “At the Movies,” and now, through Roger Ebert’s Facebook page, Twitter account and blog, I continue to find sustenance from his enduring voice.

One of my favorite selections in the anthology is a Rex Reed interview/essay on Ava Gardner. Ms.Gardner becomes very candid, confiding in her interviewer that she never had a good man. “Sinatra?” the interviewer prompts, helpfully. “No comment,” the delicious, mysterious response.  Ava and Rex spend an afternoon together and its all very liquid and intimate and wonderful.
I was also taken with a John Updike essay on one of his great screen loves, Doris Day,which lends all kinds of new depth to the cut-out character.  Updike is a superb essayist (and novelist, of course) so I was thrilled to finally get a copy of Higher Gossip, the posthumously published collection of his essays on art- from sculpture to Snoopy. The man’s writing is a gift to humanity (and he wouldn’t deny it.) The personal essays about retirement in the southwest, “where we come to put our striving to rest,” articulate his cultural elite status, but he’s always honest and straightforward about who he is. He’s not ashamed to admit to retiring on a golf course. Hey, he earned it.

A special touch on the Roger Ebert film book is the sale sticker slapped on the front cover: “Cody’s Books: Bargain Bin- $5.98″    My dad grew up in Berkeley and so we visited the fine town a couple of times a year to celebrate Christmas and birthdays with my grandparents.  No trip was complete without a pilgrimage to Cody’s Books.  Curious to know if the bookstore makes an appearance in  Michael Chabon’s new book. How could it not? I remember the bookstore with a great glass pane entrance and a flower stand in front. It will be fun to compare notes.

The next little gem in my pilfered collection is the 60 cent Signet paperback, “Stern,” by Bruce Jay Friedman.  Time magazine declared the novel “HUGELY COMIC AND HORRENDOUSLY REAL.”  The first 50 pages read like a white-knuckle ride through 1960’s suburban hell.  The man Stern has all this anxiety about gardening.  The caterpillars are taking over and he is freaking out. Some idiot looks up his wife’s skirt and hurls a racial slur at him which begins to eat away at his inner peace. Good thing the book is short because it is very angsty and I can only take so much.

Here is an eeire coincidence: a ticket stub for Wagner’s “Die Walkure” slipped out of the paperback book as I opened it.   The thing is, we had *just* gone to see David Cronenberg’s (ghastly) “A Dangerous Method”  about the proud mysticist Carl Jung and his theories about coincidence. There is a scene where Jung plays a piece from the opera “Die Walkure” as part of a psychological experiment at his clinic. He has his mad mistress/patient record the reactions to the music from the audience.  So then, to come home and see a ticket stub from a long ago performance of the same name is just a perfect piece of synchronicity, a phenomenon Carl Jung expounded upon in his work. I’m just not sure the movie really does the man justice. The takeaway message that the “batshit crazy” mental patient just needed a good spanking to self-actualize is wrong in so many ways, I don’t know where to start. Then there is the scene where she is mashing up her food with her hands and it looks like feces? Again, pointlessly degrading. Why? I will say the art direction was beautiful throughout. The lighting, costumes, set design, the look of it all was lovely. Artistically, I would put it miles ahead of say, The Descendents, which was mediocre at best and yet is getting  accolades from the Art Director’s Guild, of all places. The Hawaiian music soundtrack must have lulled everyone into a feeling of happy satisfaction. I was immune to its charms, apparently.

Getting back to books, I’m happy to say I took with me from the guest bedroom closet at my parent’s house, “The Emotions and The Enneagram.” The enneagram is my go-to self-help mystical system of choice. Psycho-pharmacology is interesting, but I think there are other tools for integrating and transforming the personality. I think some of Laura Dern’s character, Amy Jellicoe, in the HBO series,“Enlightened” is wearing off on me. I love the scene where Amy and her rehab buddy, played to surfer-girl perfection by Robin Wright, go to a new age bookstore together.  Girl dates at metaphysical bookstores are sorely missing from my life. Next time I’m in LA, I’m going to visit The Bodhi Tree. I thought it closed, but it looks like it is still there, just under new ownership. Another excellent New Age book shop, Alexandria II, relocated awhile ago and I’ve yet to visit them in their newly expanded space. There is probably a whole section of the store devoted to family dynamics and I could probably use to spend some time there.

Update: What is this? Reverse synchronicity? Anti-manifestation? Aaargh!

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