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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

international day of the book and the moviegoer.

International Day of the Book was March 23rd, but the two of us at my house finished reading the books from then not too long ago. I've amalgamated the Catalonian customs from St. George's Day with Shakespeare's birthday and deathday and Cervantes's deathday (by different calendars, but whatever...), so that a gal will give the fellow she fancies a book, and the fellow will return the favor with a rose.

This year, James got upstaged by our nephew who gave me three roses, which I then strung into a petal garland after they started drooping. James picked me a lovely red rose with three buds that dried beautifully. And what did this gal give her fancied fellow? Not so much a book to keep on our shelf, but an experience. 



A wabi sabi arrangement featuring the dried roses from this year's Day of the Book.

I went to the library and checked out two books to present to James-- The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown. I gave him one book to read and one to follow, because we had been talking about these incidental companion books from an Atlantic article and because James tells me that the way I read books-- that is, how I read books in a certain order to compliment each other-- is one of the things he loves about me. 


The other thing, is, though, that I also have a habit of reading other people's books, (I can't decide if it's endearing or irritating. There is something so enticing about someone else's book!) which means I re-read The Moviegoer again. Having moved to New Orleans in the time between the last few blog posts, the book seems especially appropriate. Walker Percy's geography and observations are spot on for the city and holds true even after 50 years. Locals still hang out on Frenchman St. and complain that the tourists are taking over. Men with beards and bicycles go to the French Quarter for booze and women. And if you're in Gentilly, you'd never know you were in New Orleans except for the palm trees next to the Walgreens (and the roads, which are just as terrible as any other part of the city).


I both empathize with Binx, the main character, and mistrust him. He's an obviously unreliable narrator suffering from PTSD, and I wonder that the author of the Atlantic article ended up revealing a little more about himself than he may have meant to by confessing his obsessive identification with the suffering Binx. And yet, I identify with Binx, too, and I wonder what that says about me.


The Binx in The Moviegoer is upon the week of his thirtieth birthday, which coincides that year with Mardi Gras. The book jacket tells me that he is searching for authenticity, and what 20-/30-something these days isn't looking for authenticity? Binx won't admit to what he's searching for. He uses euphemisms like a "searching ray" because he's incapable of calling it how it is through the fog of his trauma, or he makes excuses about not wanting to be mundane or a traitor to his family's communication style by saying outright what he's looking for when talking around it makes him feel much more comfortable. Authenticity and a connection with others could be mundane, because it so often comes about in those small, everyday experiences, but when those are the things that give a life meaning, how could the mundane be such a bad thing that Binx won't admit to it? Instead, he hides. He hides by living in Gentilly, away from his family and few friends, he hides by running through his secretaries, deceiving himself and the women that he loves them (he does not), and he hides by going to the movies.


Binx's obsession with the movies is one of the things I identify with most strongly, and perhaps ironically. Binx and his cousin, Kate, go to the movies, and Kate remarks that a certain neighborhood in New Orleans is now "certified" by the movie. Certification occurs when one sees a "movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere." (p. 63) On a meta level, The Moviegoer itself is a certification of New Orleans, especially for adrift 20-/30-somethings seeking meaning in their lives. It's a personal certification for me because it means that I am living Somewhere people want to be, instead of a place that people want to Get Out Of. (Now, this isn't to say that The Moviegoer is New Orleans's only certification; New Orleans has so many certifications I couldn't imagine counting them. For me, the more the better.)


And here I must leave you. I'll let you read these books for yourself, to judge the stories through the lens of your own critical experiences. Perhaps, like me, you might make connections to the book-- certifications-- and find meaning in the moment of your life as you read your books. 


Do let me know what you find. I'd be so interested to hear.

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