Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Still Lives

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Still Lives by Maria Hummel on Audible, a pick from Reese Witherspoon's Book Club. Even as the story explores the glamorous and often cutthroat art world, the author creates a stunning and moving exhibition with words instead of paint. The plot combines a murder mystery with a disturbing reflection on violence against women against the backdrop of Los Angeles high society. From author Maria Hummel at Hello Sunshine:
A native Vermonter, I was new to L.A., to the glamorous, light-drenched West, to the art world, to conversations that started with favorite shabu-shabu restaurants and ended with head-shakes over Matthew Barney’s latest Cremaster movie.

And then there was the way I dressed. My coworkers—all women—were barelegged. I wore tights. They wore sandals. I clunked along in mary janes. They had purses. I lugged a bookbag because I had never owned a purse, and all I possessed to carry my wallet and lunch was this bulky, black-leather buckled affair that my father had bought from an office store when he found out I’d gotten a job in the big city. It bonked my side, heavy as a small dog.

We settled on the grass together, and I sweltered as I listened to my future friends: designers, administrators, and marketers who’d come from all over the country but had all lived in L.A. for years. Ed Ruscha’s name cropped up. Ed Roo-SHAY. I mentally slotted in a correction for the artist that I’d thought was pronounced Ed Russia. I knew that pictures from Ruscha’s famous series of Sunset Boulevard buildings appeared in our galleries. I knew that Sunset Boulevard ran through Hollywood and that I lived in Hollywood, which meant that every day I was driving by a landscape that had inspired a great contemporary artist. My daily commute had never been so illuminated, so preserved, but neither had I ever popped in for drinks at a bar where F. Scott Fitzgerald had once eaten, or seen a famous movie like Dr. Zhivago  in the actual theater where it had premiered in 1965. (Read more.)

We associate Reese Witherspoon with California, when actually she's from Tennessee. I like what she says about Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, a book I loved. Here is an interview with her from The New York Times:
What’s your go-to classic?

Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair.” Oh, how I love that book! It’s about ships passing in the night and grave misunderstandings and lost opportunities and time running out. It gets me every time. I also love “Laughter in the Dark,” by Nabokov. That’s a big one for me. It’s just so beautifully constructed. If you don’t know the book: A man falls in loves with a girl who works at a movie theater. He then goes blind and she becomes his companion and helps him around. On a vacation, he starts to become paranoid that someone else is there with them. Meanwhile the girl is saying: “What? There’s nobody else here!” The finale is told from the blind man’s point of view. He’s listening to a scuffle in the room, someone’s footfalls …. It’s completely riveting, and shocking. He’s been sort of manipulating the younger girl — but she’s been manipulating him, too.

You recorded the audiobook version of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman.” Are you a fan of the book (and “Mockingbird”)? Did performing it aloud change your perception of it?

Look, I could write a whole dissertation on “Go Set a Watchman.” I know there was some controversy around the book but there was a radical idea at the center of it that intrigued me. Perhaps instead of Atticus being the hero of that story, what if it was Scout? And from all the reading I have done, Harper Lee’s father was not exactly seeking social justice and racial equality. He had a lot of century-old ideas about race in America. Harper Lee had lived in New York City after college and returned filled with ideas about how to create equality in her community and in our country. She wrote “Go Set a Watchman” about the struggle she had getting her father to understand her frustrations about the racism in her small town. I think we have to make room in our minds that some of the stories that we’ve been told for so many years could be framed differently. What if Scout was the equality-seeking hero of that narrative and not Atticus Finch? What if Harper Lee made her father a hero that he wasn’t? What if the world was not ready for a 26-year-old girl from the South to be the moral center of the story? (Read more.)


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