downtime

I've been inspired by Orange is The New Black to make the best of my sprained foot forced downtime - to "make my time count," as Piper says. So I set a goal: finish the latest decade's worth of reading from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel list by the time I can walk again.

Here's what I've got left:

2013 - The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
2011 - A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
2010 - Tinkers by Paul Harding
2009 - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
2008 - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2007 - The Road by Carmac McCarthy
2006 - March by Geraldine Books
2005 - Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2004 - The Known World by Edward P. Jones
2003 - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2002 - Empire Falls by Richard Russo
2001 - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
2000 - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I just finished Tinkers, by Paul Harding, which is short but dense.

Synopsis

Clock repairman George Crosby lays in his death bed and reflects on life, while his family keeps vigil and comforts him in his final, hallucination-filled days. His memories are intermingled with those of his father Howard, an epileptic traveling salesman with a poetic soul. Howard's long-suffering wife plans to have him committed; learning of this, Howard runs away (leaving George and his siblings) to start a new life. The story weaves together narration from two time periods, dream sequences, snippets of a clock repair manual, and even bits of Howard's own writing to describe a world of intergenerational love and loss.

My Thoughts

I'm not typically a big fan of existentialist drama, and the whole dad-dying-in-a-hospital-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-living-room bit cut a little too close to home for me (I felt myself mentally distancing from the more graphic and painfully familiar passages). But I got sucked in to Howard's story, and I found the depictions of his epileptic fits fascinating and beautifully written. And while I wasn't exactly captivated by the plot as a whole, I admired the novel's consistency of mood: dark, slightly tense, and occasionally delirious.

Selected Excerpts

And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.

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Her stern manner and her humorless regime mask bitterness far deeper than any of her children or her husband imagine. She has never recovered from the shock of becoming a wife and then a mother. She is still dismayed every morning when she first sees her children, peaceful, sleeping, in their beds when she goes to wake them, that as often as not the feeling she has is one of resentment, of loss. These feelings frighten her so much that she has buried them under layer upon layer of domestic strictness. She has managed, in the dozen years since becoming a wife and a mother, to half convince herself that this nearly martial ordering of her household is, in fact, the love that she is so terrified she does not have.


Werds I Lerned (or Had Fergotten)*

dolce far niente - pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness
vastation - a laying waste; waste; depopulation; devastation
tintinnabulation - the ringing or sounding of bells
balky - given to stopping, and refusing to go on; difficult to operate or start
horology - the art of science of measuring time
capstan - rotating spindles used to move recording tape through the mechanism of a tape recorder (example)
imbricate - having regularly arranged, overlapping edges, as roof tiles or fish scales (example)
craquelure - a network of fine cracks or crackles on the surface of a painting (examples)
ogee - a curve, shaped somewhat like an S, consisting of two arcs that curve in opposite senses, so that the ends are parallel (example)
gnomon - the projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow (example)
clepsydra - an ancient device that measured time by marking the regulated flow of water through a small opening (looked like this)
anneal - to subject (glass or metal) to a process of heating and slow cooling in order to toughen and reduce brittleness
finitude - the quality or condition of being finite
vitreous - of, relating to, resembling, or having the nature of glass; glassy
fugue - a pathelogical amnesiac condition during which one is apparently conscious of one's actions but has no recollection of them after returning to a normal state
columbine - a perennial herb (examples)
ossuary - a container or receptacle, such as an urn or a vault, for holding the bones of the dead (example)
dun - a dull, grayish brown color

Next Up

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

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*I know, I'm a total dork. The more times I write them down and define them, though (and look at examples), the more likely I am to actually learn them.

When I was in college I used to create index cards for every new word I came across. I was obsessive about it; I had hundreds of them, all alphabetized and neatly boxed in dozens of small plastic cases. I'd test myself on them for no reason other than the pride of knowing obscure, random words that no else did. I guess it was just a nerdy hobby? I even roped my boyfriend into helping me - I remember sitting with him at LAX when I was twenty-five, waiting to board our flight to Bora Bora, and having him quiz me with flashcards. Mind you, this was at a time when I was dancing my way through school. The jet setting stripper/English major who studied vocabulary words in her off time. Hilarious.

I ditched the cards when I got married and felt overwhelmed by having a 3000 square foot McMansion full of crap to organize, keep clean, etc. But I wish so much I'd kept them.

I've started making them again. Nerdy hobbies FTW. :)