Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Old acquaintance

I attended my 40th grammar school reunion last weekend. What fun to see people become themselves. A couple of us definitely resembled our younger selves. I made the short list of "people who closely resemble their 8th grade selves," though didn't win despite staunch support from old friends. It was certainly gratifying to be greeted as the class brain. I'll think about that whenever I feel bad ... . It was especially striking to see how the men have changed -- how solid adults have grown from relatively slight and skinny roots, although a few are far from skinny now. (In fairness I am among the women who have also grown more solid.) The more things change, the more they stay the same. All the nuns are gone, though their reputations live on. (Sister Clara! Sister Sponsa!) The outgoing are still outgoing, the low-profile still quiet, and the class president still confidently exhibits leadership. But everything that was SO important then is long since forgotten, along with a few names of people in the class kindergarten picture. Most amazing is the loyalty; so many people married so many years, so many people showing up for a grammar school reunion, though the fact that most people haven't moved far also has something to do with it. With people inquiring about my siblings and catching up on whose parents were still around, it felt powerfully like extended family from the old neighborhood, where virtually everybody lived in a six-block radius. We used to stand outside a friend's house and holler them out: yo Charlene!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oprah. Obama. Obama. Oprah.

(to echo a long-ago comment by David Letterman, Oprah's guest on her season premiere this morning)

There's a lot of speculation about how influential Oprah's backing of Obama will be, given the $3-plus million dollar fundraiser she held for him this weekend at her California compound, right before her TV season began. Impeccable timing for her. One poll even shows that 31 percent of people think people they know will be more likely to vote for Obama because of O's backing. I find the wording of the question interesting. The poll doesn't ask if respondents would themselves be more likely to vote for Obama. Instead, they're guessing whether their friends might. Ergo, not a meaningful measure, even though CBS is puffing its own poll. Rita Cosby asked me about this last year (when she was still on MSNBC) when Oprah and Larry King were chatting and Oprah said "He's my guy" about Obama. I said at the time that books and brownies were easier to recommend than political candidates. I still think that's true, mostly. Oprah has never really ventured into highly contentious realms with her recommendations. When she examines Iraq, for example, she will focus on soldiers' families, or interview experts. She does well by playing to people's sympathies, and in order to do so presents situations in a sympathetic light (women in Africa, education, children and predators). Politics is a different realm; many have opinions to begin with, and so she can't give them the edited situation she usually presents when she's trying to get people to care and move them to action. Obama said her backing might give him a hearing in certain quarters. That could translate into, say, 5 percent. And it would come from Hillary backers.

What I'm reading

The Memory Keeper's Daughter. By Kim Edwards.
I put off reading this for a few months, since someone told me that it starts off with a depressing opening: man gives away infant daughter, one of a set of twins, because she has Down syndrome. Well, I figured I was in for a bummer. But it sat on my shelf long enough to make me feel slightly guilty. I picked it up and boy, was I wrong. It took me a bit of time to get used to all the adjectives, since one of the first events is the snowstorm -- rather elaborately described -- in which the main character, David the doctor, delivers his twins. But the characterization is extremely powerful, and I like the structure of dropping in on events as time passes. I also love the symbolic play with photography, light, time, memory. It's a novel that explores choice and consequence, and how much I prefer the novel rather than nonfiction as a vehicle for such exploration. There is no sparing us the grief of loss, the novel says in a clear-eyed way. Ain't that the truth. David's secrecy about his past also resonated for me, having just come back from meeting a heretofore unknown branch of my family in Poland. Branches grow from roots. I loved this book.