Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reading "The Book of Ruth"

Of my four new garage sale books, I chose to read "The Book of Ruth" first.  As of midnight, I am on page 249.  I have a looming feeling that something dramatic, or even awful, is about to happen to have earned the book the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award for a best first novel in 1988, and Oprah's Book Club choice for 1996.

On page one, I placed an x aside one sentence because it clicked with me.  I'm known to do this.  It's how I collect quotations and how I go back and find them.  I get another level of intimacy with the characters by highlighting sentences and paragraphs that  tell me something I want to know, or that I can chuckle about.

For instance, these excerpts are taken from the first 65 pages of the book.  I'll not bother with quotation marks, cuz we know that Jane Hamilton authored them.  I'm simply playing messenger of her talented writing.

I tell myself that it should be simple to see through to the past now that I'm set loose, now that I can invent my own words, but nothing much has come my way without a price.

I think folks hold on to metal scraps and furniture because the world is an enormous place, far and wide, but they have never experienced much of it, and they're afraid.  They want an anchor so there's no danger of drifting away into outer space, or down under the ground, strange places they aren't too familiar with.

I haven't been out of Illinois.  I only spit into Wisconsin.

Occasionally, I spoke with the chickens, and in the spring and summer I planted and tended and talked with carrots and lettuce.

I started out in the hole, in school, because of my impression that I was a miracle of stupidity, and because I was afraid of my teacher.

Mrs. Ida Homer made me stand in the wastebasket because I wrote on my desk and poked my neighbor.

Aunt Sid tried to tell May that something awful happens to every single person somewhere along the line.

She had grown up knowing that nobody deserved anything, most of all rest.

There was the one summer Aunt Sid took a group to Europe.  they sang songs and people threw flowers at them.  Before they left the U.S. they sold thousands of grapefruits to raise money, and it had to make me wonder if the grapefruits were those Elmer picked way down in Texas.  It had to make me think that somehow, in a strange way, there are a few binding strands between us.  Picture it -- Aunt Sid selling Elmer's grapefruits to go to Europe, to sing songs to the communists so she can write me, so I can read the letters to Miss Finch, and add something new to her brain.  It's all a big old chain.  There isn't one unconnected link.

Still it is books that are a key to the wide world; if you can't do anything else, read all that you can.

She took the casserole dish and threw all the onions into the garbage pail.  There went the whole supper I had planned so carefully.  'You show me where you got them onions from,' she said.  She made me march down the basement stairs with her right on my tail.  When I pointed them out she laughed uproariously, with her hand to her bosom and her eyes closed.  She laughed, not out of happiness, but because what I had done proved to her that I was without one sign of intelligence.  Those onions were actually tulip bulbs.

I had the feeling I knew what it would be like to be a plant stuck in a pot, with a mistress who every now and then remembered to give it a trickle of water. 

This is a story of living a hard life, yet appreciating small and simple blessings. It's a story that shows how mean and selfish some people can be, and what it's like to constantly be put down for everything one does. The author masterfully weaves humor in with the sorrows.  Come to think of it, we all do that in our own lives, don't we.