Wednesday, January 26, 2011

little big follows my ántonia

Just finished reading Willa Cather's My Ántonia. A wonderful story. Here is a subject that held little intrinsic interest for me: Nebraska pioneers. But there I was, enchanted by the characters and the landscape. I love her strong female characters. I love that she wrote this in a male voice. Some particularly lovely quotes:

Grandfather's prayers were often very interesting...Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force; they were not worn dull from constant use.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.

It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.

Prayers said by good people are always good prayers.
A bottomless pile of good books is my definition of security and optimism. I started the next book in the stack, Little Big.

I'm not 50 pages in and I have such a crush on this book. In addition to the gorgeous prose, the text layout (see left) has me beguiled.* The small illustrated pull quotes (for lack of a better description) are utterly delightful. Form and function beautifully meshed. I gush shamelessly.

The main character at the beginning of the story is named Smoky. Which speaks to his invisibility, his anonymity. The woman he loves is called Daily Alice. She is six-feet tall and lives in place not seen on maps: Edgewood. This is her morning prayer:
O great wide beautiful wonderful World
With the wonderful waters around you curled
And the beautiful grass upon your breast
O World you are beautifully dressed.
Lastly, for today, a final quote from John Crowley's Little Big:
The gargoyle faucet coughed phthisically, and deep within the house the plumbing held conference before allowing her some hot water.
The simplest definition of the mystery word phthisic is asthmatic. It is pronounced TIZ-ik, or 'tis ick, if that helps mnemonically. It seems like every page holds gems like this. I've fallen in love with a book on the first date.

* I happened upon a pdf text-only version of the book online. The whole thing. I'm not going to argue the merits of open source or whatnot, though I sympathize in both directions. But it's just the text and what a loss. The perfume and grit of the book is sanitized and the magic stripped away in Courier 10pt type.

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