Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What I'm reading
The Amber Spyglass. By Phillip Pullman.

This made me want to re-open my Milton, and nothing has ever made me want to reopen Milton after studying him out of (self-imposed) obligation in graduate school. I don't generally like darkly lit dystopian works, but this one is less dark, curiously enough, even if the principal characters do go to the land of the dead. This was the first of the trilogy I actually liked, perhaps because I finally grew to like Will and Lyra. And I really liked the Gallivespians (is he nodding to Swift there? probably). The scope of the series is so apparent here -- its ambitious character that borrows from so much of literature to ask again some of the great, timeless questions. Pullman is clearly an excellent student of literature, which he evidently concentrated on at the expense of keeping up with theology. In some ways his is a very old-fashioned view of the superiority of Enlightenment rationalism, though with souped-up contemporary physics. The controversy over Pullman's atheism is well-covered at Idol Chatter by Donna Freitas, who told me when I interviewed her about Killing the Imposter God, her book on Pullman, that she envied my encounter with it for the first time. I'm curious enough to dip back into Milton and, even more so, Blake.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Existential question of the day

I dropped in today to the local senior center, which is cheerfully called The Friendly Center. I played two hands of bridge (lost one, darn it) and heard some stories. Having recently been with a group of Presbyterian women who wanted to learn more about telling their own stories to their families, and also because I was there prospecting for local history, I was conscious of how many years of personal history were in the room in the lives of those 135 people. Bernice, who will be 98 in January and looks like she's in her 80s, shared some of her history with me, including having a grandfather who was a lamplighter in Chicago's Marquette Park. She was aboard TWA flight 847 when it was hijacked by two Lebanese gunmen in June 1985. She was among the first group of people let off the plane because the hijackers had decided "to let the old ladies go," she said. She was 75. She remembered the name of the heroic flight attendant who spoke German and could communicate with one of the hijackers, the captain's name, the name of the Navy diver who was the single fatality during the protracted ordeal. (There were 152 people on the plane.) People remember little pieces of history, which is a much bigger story. A propos of something else (the game trophies bagged by her late husband, a hunter) Bernice's friend Viola asked, "What are you supposed to do with your memories?" I hope I learn the answer.