The Country of the Pointed Firs – Sarah Orne Jewett


(Photograph of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

Well, I’m never going to be ready for the assault on J.G. Ballard and his weirdness if I keep reading stuff like this.

The Country of the Pointed Firs is described in most places I’ve seen as a collection of short stories, but it could equally be a novel. Either way, nothing happens. A writer goes to stay in a seaside town in Maine and takes lodgings with Mrs Todd, a much-beloved herbalist, and meets many of the other residents of the town. I think I should admit to you that the problem here is not the book, which is prettily written, but me. When I was a younger, more rash person I thought that I hated all nineteenth century writing but the real problem was that I had tried to read the wrong Dickens, wasn’t ready for Austen and people kept trying to make me read Thomas Hardy. I mean really, who likes Thomas Hardy? (purrer of the spotted hue, never was pet mourned as you A HA HA HA HA).

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scraps from the last few days

So, the first thing that attempting to keep a cultural log is telling me is that I spend a lot of my time on digital ephemera and not that much time listening or reading at the moment. I hope to change that, and my other excuse is that I’m reading a book that I’m only quarter-enjoying at the moment. But more about that later.

Pretty slim pickings, then, for the last few days. But I did see a lovely poem on the tube that I thought was an interesting and mischievous choice for our Jubilee year (and now I come to think of it, I saw it on the Jubilee line too): I Sing of Change
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Relatively speaking – Einstein on the Beach

I saw the trailer above after seeing the opera – or at least the bits of the opera where I wasn’t outside in the foyer throwing espresso down my neck – and it came as a relief to know that I wasn’t supposed to understand it.  This is not my first Phillip Glass opera – Husband and I went to see Satyagraha a couple of years ago as well – so I was up for the hypnotic arpeggios and the libretto that no one understands and the rest of it.

Within 10 minutes of the start the stage holds a boy on a gantry, alternately throwing paper aeroplanes or holding a glowing cube, a woman walking back and forth while throwing shapes with her arms, a man marked as special because he wears a red shirt (everyone else in the cast wears black, grey or white for the rest of the performance)who might be miming something at a blackboard or might not and a large, spotlit conch shell. My mind was scrambling for purchase: perhaps lady with the arms is the sea? And perhaps RedShirt is Einstein, and he’s remembering how as a boy he used to make paper planes and hold cubes, as we all do at the seaside?
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You have to start somewhere…

I’m not writing anything ever, you see, and I’m hardly thinking about things and yet there’s so many ideas formulated by other people going in and out of my head every day. I watch television with half an eye on Twitter, I read books impatiently, I barely hear any music. The idea on this blog is that I’ll make myself stop and think about what I’ve seen, heard or read, and that perhaps as a result I’ll remember some of it. And also I want to remind myself that if I want to talk about something it’s better to have read something about it first.

The following things are fair game, and I will make a note of what has come my way and what I thought of them: books, films, music, art, theatre. You know, the stuff covered by the ‘culture’ sections of the broadsheets. I’ll be interested in what other people have to say about what I’ve seen, and I’ll always welcome discussion. But I’ll try not to get drawn too easily into whirlpools of current thought.