The New York Times had a recent article criticizing the context of a quote to be used on the 9/11 memorial site, which will be dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the attacks this September. The author of the opinion piece, Caroline Alexander, argues that the quote from Virgil is being misused. She calls it “out of context”. The words translate to “No day shall erase you from the memory of time”.
I have been thinking about why Ms Alexander’s piece struck a chord with me. At a basic level, and away from their original context, they’re just words. Indeed, as a memorial for the victims of a terrorist attack, they act as a fine tribute, a simple and powerful sentiment that is neither controversial nor too simplistic. The article is not incorrect or contentious, but rather raises a question that I suppose I’ve always wondered about. Do words need to stand in their original context to provide meaning? Or can meaning be derived from the words themselves, much like a painting, for example. Does significance derive from the artist and author’s intention, but also, and perhaps most importantly in artistic endeavors, from our own interpretation? I don’t want to argue the appropriateness or otherwise of this particular quote. Rather, I want to talk about words.
Words, words, words, words. I love them. I remember when words started really meaning something to me, when I devoured quotes and books and committed my favorites to memory. This probably started in high school, this love of words and the poetry of a song lyric or an ancient passage …
“And the poets down here, Don’t write nothing at all, They just stand back and let it all be, And in the quick of the night, They reach for their moment, And try to make an honest stand, But they wind up wounded, Not even dead, Tonight in Jungleland”
“…One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
“Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount, But nothing really matters much, it's doom alone that counts, And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn. ‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I'll give you shelter from the storm.’”
“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”
“As all the Heavens were a Bell, And Being, but an Ear…”
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
I was a teenager, and looking back at many of my favorite quotes is a little embarrassing, especially the obvious writers I chose, as though I was the first girl in the world to adore Dickinson or find a Dylan or Springsteen lyric that really "spoke" to me. But truth is that these writers are admired because their work is inspired. Inspired, and for a teenager falling in love with words, inspiring. Need I read Macbeth in its entirety to appreciate and understand “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow..”? I don’t believe so, although of course I had to, in Grade 11.
What do you think? Do your favorite quotes stand without their original context? Or do you believe they have more power within the limits of the author’s original intention? What are some of your favorite early quotes?
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
For Stephen King fans the count down is on to the release of his newest novel titled 11/22/63, later this year in November.
In honour of that exciting release (book nerds unite!), I thought I’d share my experience of reading his most recent book: Full Dark, No Stars, published late 2010.
I should admit now to a little bias. Stephen King is one of my favourite authors and I’ve been corrupted by his pop-fiction since the tender age of 11. I have a tendency to like ALL of his books, regardless of if they’re simply good or really brilliant. I read so much Stephen King when I was 11 and 12 that by the time I started high school, I was afraid of the dark.
Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars is certainly enough to make you afraid of the dark as an adult. Rather than the usual sci-fi and supernatural concepts to frighten his readers, King uses the dark side of human nature to scare the pants of us. There are still some horror aspects for long-time fans, but the most disturbing (and I mean disturbing – I couldn’t read this book before going to sleep) is that the awful things that play out in his stories could also happen in real life.
Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four novellas. All carry the theme of revenge and retribution, and all the folly it can bring along with it. I’ve haven’t kept my reading rate up with the publishing rate of King’s most recent books (much to my own disgust) and I do have a fondness for his classics (Carrie, It, Misery, The Stand), and if you’re the same, you may find Full Dark, No Stars starkly different, but also refreshing. Some of the elements for which Stephen King is famous; a penchant for graphic, often grotesque details of death and mutilation, and a fast-paced story, are still there, but there is distinctly less horror. Full Dark, No Stars offers horrors of other kinds, those which humans create all on their own. The stories are classic King page-turners, but to plagiarise his own words; ‘the stories in this book are harsh’.
The first, the chilling 1922, is a self-penned confession from a Nebraskan farmer who murders his wife after a long-standing argument over land, and subsequently sets his beloved son on a path of self-destruction.
The second, Big Driver, is the tale of a fiction author who, while travelling back from a speaking engagement, finds herself a victim of one of the worst crimes against women, and embarks on a mission of revenge.
The third, Fair Extension, deals with a man and his jealously of his friend, whom he believes has it all. He makes a deal with the devil, and watches his friend’s life unravel.
The final story, A Good Marriage, tells the story of a wife who finds out her husband is not the man she thinks he is, and finds herself doing unimaginable things to protect herself.
I’ve purposely left out a lot of the details of the stories because I don’t want to give the twists and turns away. It’s best to go on the journey yourself; while each story has a common theme, they are all distinctly different.
You might also find yourself a little changed after reading these stories. What? I hear you saying. They’re just stories. And that’s true. It is fiction. But when you read King’s afterward, you’ll see that each story has its root in real life, and some even echo details of those awful tales you see on the news each night. They make the reader think about life in a deeper way. To use King’s own words - it’s all about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. If you can read a book, and it changes the way you think about life, even just for a day, a week or a year, surely that’s worth being afraid of the dark for just a little while.
Do you have a favourite Stephen King novel? Or have you read something else great lately? Join our Book Nerds Corner and share away!