My Family and Other Animals

By Gerald Durell

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I’d like to mount a defense of charm.

Charm, you might argue, is not under attack. Charm is charming; everyone likes it. Sure, fine, charm is not aesthetically controversial, that’s true, but many people consider it…superficial. Most people would agree that it is an attractive characteristic, but most people would not consider it a substantive quality.

Certainly, it’s not a high literary quality. When we discuss Great Books, we don’t usually describe them as “charming” and, if we do, it’s orthogonal to the quality of the book, a nice surprise but not dispositive. We expect Great Books to move us, instruct us, or enrich us – we do not expect them to charm us.

The subtle implication is that charm alone will not justify a work. It’s great if a book is charming, but only as long as it is also educating, or moving, or impressive in some other way. Charm alone does not deserve our time.

I disagree.

‘My Family and Other Animals’ is the first of Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy. Durrell was the youngest son in what must have been an extremely eccentric English family. Born in India, his family moved to the Greek island of Corfu when he was a young boy. His three memoirs of that period of his life made him famous; ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is the first chronologically, and the best known.

Part of the charm of ‘My Family and Other Animals’ comes from the fact that Gerald’s family is worthy of a memoir all their own. Gerald had three living siblings: Margo, his spotty and self-absorbed older sister; Leslie, his martial-minded older brother with a penchant for detonating munitions near the house; and Lawrence, the novelist, a pompous braggart who is responsible for 90% of the best laugh lines in the book:

“It was Larry, of course, who started it. The rest of us felt too apathetic to think of anything except our own ills, but Larry was designed by Providence to go through life like a small, blond firework, exploding ideas in other people’s minds, and then curling up with catlike unctuousness and refusing to take any blame for the consequences.” (p. 3)

However, most of the attraction of this book comes from Durrell himself. Gerald Durrell would grow up to become a naturalist, and ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is the memoir of a child already in love with nature. Durrell spends the book wandering over Corfu, recording his close observations of its animal life. Insects, fish, bird, and mammals: nothing escapes his notice, and, usually, his interference. A shockingly large number of these animals will be captured and let loose in his family’s home. Durrell’s obsession with animal life is beating heart of the book.

‘Our attempts at history were not, at first, conspicuously successful, until George discovered that by seasoning a series of unpalatable facts with a sprig of zoology and a sprinkle of completely irrelevant detail, he could get me interested. Thus I became conversant with some historical data which, to the best of my knowledge, have never been recorded before. Breathlessly, history lesson by history lesson, I followed Hannibal’s progress over the Alps. His reason for attempting such a feat and what he intended to do on the other side were details that scarcely worried me. No, my interest in what I considered to be a very badly planned expedition lay in the fact that I knew the name of each and every elephant. I also knew that Hannibal had appointed a special man not only to feed and look after the elephants, but to give them hot-water bottles when the weather got cold. This interesting fact seems to have escaped most serious historians.” (p. 46)

Gerald Durrell

‘My Family and Other Animals’ is as low-stakes as it gets. Certainly, there is no profound dramatic tension; there isn’t really even a plot. No one is threatened, no one comes to harm, no one learns or grows. The books has no philosophical or moral agenda. It does not even make an argument about the preservation of nature. Though Durrell would go on to become a naturalist, his childish enthusiasm for the animals in his environment are not preservationist; on the contrary, as Durrell seemed inclined to capture and bring home any interesting animal he found on the island, he was probably a destructive force on Corfu, all things considered.

All of which is fine. Actually, it’s better than fine – it’s great. ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is a beautifully written, funny little book that will cause its readers not one minute of stress. It is a light-hearted memoir of an eccentric family in a beautiful place. It is completely, and only, charming.

Which does not mean that it is unworthy of your time, or of serious thought. Charm, I think, is good for the soul. Charm helps to heal our psychic wounds. It soothes and comforts us. And the more unsettling the state of the world, the more we need these pools of quiet charm, peaceful places where we can go and rest and be reminded that effortless, inconsequential joy still exists in the world.

Reading ”My Family and Other Animals’ is a joyful experience. It makes me happy (that’s why I do it every few years, when I feel low). It’s a lovely book, full of air and light. There is no darkness, no dire consequence to be afraid of, but it’s not boring for that lack. For all its plotlessness, the world is compelling: compelling in its happy sunlit quality, happy in its cast (though nothing of import really happens to any of them), happy in its small, inconsequential misadventures. It stands as a good reminder that books needn’t have high stakes to affect us; sometimes, a few light and charming moments can mean more to a reader than all the seriousness in the world.

Kitchen Confidential

By Anthony Bourdain

I know that I’m basically the last person alive to read ‘Kitchen Confidential’. I know that everything that needs to be said about Bourdain, his life, his legacy, his death, his synthesized voice for use in documentaries, &c…, has already been said, and, honestly, I have nothing to add.

I knew all that when I picked up ‘Kitchen Confidential’ – my reading it was informed by all the news around Bourdain, not the other way around. Of course, all that context probably blunted my reactions to his book; I suspect that, if I had read it back, before Bourdain was famous, I would have been as fascinated and titillated as everyone else.

But, perhaps because ‘Kitchen Confidential’ is too famous to be surprising anymore, I had a very different reaction to it: I found it needy, and sort of poignant.

‘Kitchen Confidential’ is the book that made Bourdain famous, his memoir of becoming and being a chef in various New York City restaurants. Bourdain framed ‘Kitchen Confidential’ as an exposé of his industry: a peek into the kitchen. The book is filled with juicy little stories and reveals all sorts of mini-non-scandals, like that uneaten bread from bread baskets is recycled, or how long fish is actually kept in restaurant fridges. It emphasizes the culture of kitchens: the vulgarity, the sexual frenzy, the pressure.

But what ‘Kitchen Confidential’ really is, is one long brag. Bourdain’s loving lists of hardships won’t fool anyone: ‘Kitchen Confidential’ is about how grueling, ferocious, and elite Bourdain thinks his profession is. It is a book-length treatise on why chefs are the baddest of the bad. Lest you think that chefs are just people who cook for a living, Bourdain is here to convince that they are actually warriors.

The book is replete with passages like this:

“So you want to be a chef? You really, really, really want to be a chef? If you’ve been working in another line of business, have been accustomed to working eight- to nine-hour days, weekends and evenings off; if you are used to being treated with some modicum of dignity, spoken to and interacted with as a human being, seen as an equal – a sensitive, multidimensional entity with hopes, dream, aspirations and opinions, the sort of qualities you’d expect of most working persons – then maybe you should reconsider what you’ll be facing when you graduate from whatever six-month course put this nonsense in your head to start with.” (p. 289)

This sort of goading braggadocio is typical, and absurd. This passage would be melodramatic from a recruiter for the Marine Core – from a New York City chef, it’s fucking ludicrous.

It is also familiar to me, because, like Bourdain, I work in a specialized technical field characterized by indecipherable argot and mock-heroics: science.

Much of ‘Kitchen Confidential’ felt evocative to me of my own professional world. Scientists also use a jargon-laden dialect designed to be understood only by people in the know (and exclude everyone else). They also pride themselves on pain-points: where Bourdain brags about his cooking injuries, abusive head chefs, and crazy hours, scientists swap war stories about arduous experiments, cruel PIs, and crazy hours.

Scientists are often expected to put in grueling hours; their labor belongs to someone else (in their case, the head of their lab); they spend significant amounts of their careers in apprenticeship positions, where their low pay is justified by the idea that they are learning from a master. They are un-unionized, often at the mercy of tenured ego-maniacs who can be (I promise) as psychotic as any chef Bourdain ever encountered.

And, like Bourdain, for many scientists this suffering becomes a point of pride, something which distinguishes them, makes them tougher and more worthy than people who had have not had to make such sacrifices for their career. Like Bourdain, they come to feel that their ability and willingness to withstand this suffering is a virtue, and that people who are not so willing are therefore weaker and less deserving than they.

Bourdain doesn’t apologize for this kind of culture; on the contrary, he clearly glories in it. Like a lot of people who came up in cultures like that, he feels that it makes him gritty and rugged, “the real deal”, that it taught him the virtues of hard work and expertise, and that younger people should feel privileged and lucky to have the opportunity to be subjected to it.

Ultimately, this machismo, this need to be seen as tough, began to feel desperate. Is it not enough to be an excellent chef? Why do we all have to pretend that being a chef (or a scientist) is basically the same as being Rambo? ‘Kitchen Confidential’ is less a book than a masculine performance, an anxious plea for the sort of macho glamour that normally belongs to fighter pilots and gunslingers.

When someone feels the need to tell you how very manly they are, it never ends up being convincing. It’s not convincing when Bourdain does it, and it’s really not convincing when scientists do it. And, while I understand desire the share how difficult your job can be, when that description becomes celebratory, when you start to defend the behavior simply because you had to endure it, it perpetuates the conditions you should never have had to endure in the first place.

Books like Bourdain’s make their subject professions worse. It is not reasonable that Bourdain once had a fellow chef grope him every day – bragging about how well he took it entirely misses the point. Bourdain sets these challenges up as rites of passage, something you should have to go through if you want to do what he does. A better, more humane approach would be to decry them and hope that they don’t happen to younger chefs.

While there are winning passages, and while Bourdain can be extremely charming (and funny!), the essential posture of the book is problematic. Ultimately, it feels driven more by Bourdain’s need to be seen a certain way than anything intrinsic to cheffing. While parts of it are really entertaining, I doubt that ‘Kitchen Confidential’ will age well, and, frankly, I kind of hope it doesn’t. It represents a set of values and needs that I think would be better left behind.

Inside the Third Reich

By Albert Speer

In general, I don’t think it’s fruitful to spend a lot of time trying to figure Hitler out.

I certainly understand the impulse: when we discover monsters in our midst, we are strongly motivated to examine them carefully.  Partly, this is prurient: monsters are fascinating.  But partly, this is survival: we must learn to spot them, so that we can stop them sooner in the future.

But to stop them, we don’t really need to understand them; we just need to be able to recognize them.  Which is lucky for us, because the truth is that we will never really be able to satisfy ourselves. There is no window into the minds of our villains that will ever truly explain them.

Hitler is the best and most important example of this incomprehensibility.  Oceans of ink have been spilled examining and psychoanalyzing Hitler through his books, his speeches, his relationships, and his actions. Nevertheless, he remains a cipher.  Why did he do the things he did?  Was he an evil mastermind? An ordinary megalomaniac who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time?  Was he mentally ill? Did he really believe all the things he preached, or was he merely manipulating the people around him?  How are we to understand him?

The question which has always most troubled me (and everyone else) is: did Hitler understand that his actions were wrong?  Let’s take, for example, the attempted extermination of the Jewish people: did Hitler understand that that was wrong? Even if he did not, did he get that other people would think it was wrong?  He employed euphemisms when discussing it, which implies that he did, but then, what did he make of that?  Did he believe that he acted for good but that he alone in the world saw the truth?  Did he believe that everyone secretly agreed with him and that only he had the courage to admit it?  Or did he fail to trouble himself with questions of right and wrong at all?

As I said, I don’t usually think too much about these questions, since I believe that they are unanswerable.  We will never know what Hitler “really” believed – it is enough to know what he definitely did.

Speer, with Hitler, probably around 1938

But I recently read Albert Speer’s memoir, ‘Inside the Third Reich’, and it got me grasping again after this old question.  Speer was Hitler’s architect and then, later, his Minister of Armaments.  He spent quite a lot of time in Hitler’s company, and in his memoirs, he mentions something that Hitler said to him in 1936:

“There are two possibilities for me: to win through with all my plans, or to fail.  If I win, I shall be one of the greatest men in history.  If I fail, I shall be condemned, despised, and damned.”

Despite my own good advice, I have become fixated on this quotation because it implies that Hitler was aware that other people would consider his actions atrocious.  He may have thought they were wrong. He may have considered the atrocity negotiable – he seemed to believe that victories would justify him – but he was cognizant of the fact that, in the world he inhabited, his plans were unacceptable.  He saw that, in order to be seen as heroic, he would need to remake the world.

I am particularly struck by his use of the word ‘damned’.  Damnation is total; it describes the unredeemable.  His use of it suggests that he understood the scale of the problem. It means he knew that his actions would be considered not merely bad, but in fact evil.  And, to be frank, I sort of quail before the idea of a mind which can see the evil it is about to do as evil and still do it.

Of course, I am not sure I believe that Hitler actually said that. Speer is fascinating to read in part because he is totally untrustworthy. Clearly a sycophant, he managed to intercalate himself into Hitler’s innermost circles; nevertheless, in his memoirs (written from prison), he positions himself as an intellectual, and pretends to have been able to analyze the workings of the Third Reich from an emotional distance. He does not speak to the atrocities he helped commit, and does not offer a satisfying explanation for how he was taken in. He clearly understands that his proximity to Hitler is the selling point of his memoir, and he endeavors to highlight their closeness while shielding himself from calumny.

And this quote is exactly the kind of quote of which we should be skeptical: historical, self-aware, foreshadowing, significant, intimate. It’s too neat, too good. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that Hitler never said anything such thing.

Which speaks to my original point: we will never know. And even if the quote is legitimate, even if it offers a glimpse into Hitler’s darkness, it’s probably better not to peer too hard after it.  Ultimately, Hitler will never satisfy those of us who want to understand evil – he will never yield up his own true beliefs.  Maybe it will suffice to say that, in this one case, Hitler was correct: he did fail, and so he is condemned, despised, and damned.

Into Thin Air

By Jon Krakauer

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I don’t know how to feel about ‘Into Thin Air’.

‘Into Thin Air’ is Jon Krakauer’s memoir of the 1996 attempt on Everest which resulted in the deaths of five climbers. Krakauer, who is an experienced climber and mountaineer, was commissioned by Outside magazine to write a piece on a guided summit. He went up with a company called Adventure Consultants, led by celebrated climber and guide Rob Hall. During their summit attempt, they were surprised by a blizzard. Ultimately, four members of the Adventure Consultants group perished on the mountain, as well as the lead of another climbing service, Scott Fischer. Fischer was also a famous mountaineer and he ran a company called Mountain Madness.

Krakauer’s role in the disaster is complicated, about which fact he is very forthright. He was a customer, not a guide, and so not responsible for the lives on that climb. However, in his hypoxic state, he wrongly ID’ed another climber and asserted that the man had made it safely back to camp. This turned out not to be true, and that other climber died, a fact for which Krakauer holds himself partly responsible.

It’s natural, when a disaster happens, to look for someone to blame. Krakauer avoids doing this outright, which is admirable, I think. He steadfastly insists that everyone associated with both climber-led expeditions was on the mountain with the best of intentions, and that the intense conditions and lack of oxygen on top of the mountain compromise anyone’s ability to make decisions.

On the other hand, he does spend a significant portion of time making sidewise, blame-y comments along the lines of: “It’s hard to know why such an experienced guide would make such an irresponsible decision”, “We can only speculate about why he decided to ignore the turn-around time. Whatever his reasons, the results were catastrophic.” Those comments may technically be blameless, but they are also judgmental. They leave the reader with the distinct impression that Krakauer has opinions, if not about who is to blame, then at least about who made the situation worse.

And by the way, that might be OK: he was there, he’s allowed to have opinions about something that happened to him. The difficulty comes from the fact that his memoir has become, in the popular imagination, a matter of fact*. It was huge bestseller; it was adapted into a movie. Krakauer’s authorial skill and confidence have ensured that his account is the account.

*It is worth noting that several other members of the two expeditions also wrote memoirs, but none of them achieved the popularity or staying power of Krakauer’s.

Jon Krakauer

And that might be a problem, because a convincing narrator is not necessarily an honest one, or even an accurate one. I do not mean to imply either that Krakauer is wrong or lying – I only mean that I cannot tell whether or not he is. And because he is such a good storyteller, I get caught up in the narrative and forget to think critically.

Krakauer is both a great narrator AND a convincing witness, and that is a powerful and dangerous combination. He delivers his tale with confidence, clarity, and excellent pacing, while infusing it with a first person perspective that is characterized by humility and self-examination.

It’s a really winning combination. The story itself is deeply compelling already – Krakauer’s writing craft turns it into a page turner, which begs the question: should it be?

I’ll admit it: I really liked ‘Into Thin Air’, both times I’ve read it. I think it’s a fabulous book: it’s well-written, it does a excellent job explaining and clarifying, and the story it tells is absolutely gripping. I am not a huge one for stories of men in the wilderness, but ‘Into Thin Air’ is incredibly entertaining.

And I’m not faulting Krakauer, at all. On the contrary, I would consider myself a Krakauer fan. I’ve read multiple of his books; I’ve enjoyed and admired everything of his that I have ever read. He belongs to that category of author who, when I see their name on a book, it makes me way more likely to read it.

But I read Krakauer like he’s a novelist: all my critical faculties go to sleep, I get lost in the story and just go with the flow. It’s fun that way, and he has the strength to carry you along. But he’s not a novelist – he’s a reporter, and a memoirist. We ought, surely, to be applying the same critical lens to his writing that we would to a newspaper piece.

Or maybe not. I might be overthinking it: maybe ‘Into Thin Air’ is a story, a book meant to entertain me. Yes, it technically happened to some people, but it didn’t happen to me, and the truth is that I will never know what happened on the top of that mountain. Perhaps I can relax my attachment to reality and just enjoy a book.

That is a real possibility, by the way: that I ought to just relax. It’s ok to just be entertained sometimes – not everything needs to be distilled for Meaning. I don’t need to tie myself in knots trying to figure out how to responsibly enjoy a first-person narrative.

I have no personal stake in how accurate ‘Into Thin Air’ is, whether Krakauer is fair or right or not. That is unknown and unknowable to me. In fact, I don’t really care how accurate it is, and that is precisely what worries me. I have been lulled into critical suspension, persuaded to just go with the flow and be entertained.

But I do think that there is a difference, in this regard, between fiction and non-fiction. As compelling a book as ‘Into Thin Air’ is, simply from a plot perspective, it describes a real event that happened to real people. We may forget facts, but we remember stories, and when something is memorable and compelling, we are more likely to remember it. Over time, it becomes true for us, whether or not it should be. So, in my opinion, we have a responsibility to pay attention when facts are presented to us as story. And ‘Into Thin Air’ is the ultimate facts-as-story book.

Maybe I’m just trying to remind myself that it is OK to love a story while still reading it with one eye open. I don’t have to solve everything. ‘Into Thin Air’ is a great read. It’s a really good book, whether or not it’s a True Story. Perhaps that’s enough.

Dust Tracks On A Road

By Zora Neale Hurston

All Posts Contain Spoilers

It is one of life’s great mercies that we are not forced to live by the opinions we held as teenagers.

Like many American teenagers, I was forced to read ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ in high school.  I hated it.  I don’t really remember why now, but I know that I developed for that book a particular antipathy that was personal and intense, and colored my view of the author.  I didn’t just hate ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’, I decided; I also hated Zora Neale Hurston.

Then, a few years ago, I read the ‘The Best American Essays of the Century‘ anthology, and it included an essay by Hurston, written in 1928, called ‘How It Feels To Be Colored Me’.  It’s a short, funny little essay, and I loved it.  I loved her voice, and her point of view, and I began to wonder whether I might have been wrong to assign her a role as a literary nemesis.

About a year later, I read ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow‘, by Wade Davis, about Haitian zombies (which are real, as in real zombies, yes, zombies are real, read the book, it’ll all be explained), and he mentioned, almost out of hand, that much of the earliest work documenting the existence of zombies, and gaining access to the secret societies which produce them, had been done by an anthropologist named, you guessed it, Zora Neale Hurston.

Dust Tracks on a RoadSo, a few weeks ago, when I saw a beautiful, bright yellow copy of her memoir, ‘Dust Tracks on a Road‘ (honestly, it’s a jewel of an edition – you want to eat it, not read it), I decided to give Zora Neale Hurston the chance she should have gotten when I was in high school.

Hurston published ‘Dust Tracks on a Road‘ in 1942, when she was 51 (she would die in 1960, at the age of 69).  It is her telling of her own life, sometimes chronologically, sometimes thematically.  It was an interesting life, and would make for interesting telling regardless, but Hurston doesn’t spend as much time on the plotty parts (her two marriages, her time in Haiti and Bermuda and driving around the Deep South) as she does on the things which she felt gave her life meaning and texture.  She spends a lot of time in childhood; she grew in Eatonville, Florida, which was the first Negro town to be incorporated in the United States.  And she spends a lot of time describing the things that gave her life joy: music, friends, school.  She does not milk her life for its extraordinariness – rather, she describes the world as she saw it.

This may sound like a disappointing emphasis, since she did have such a remarkable life.  But ‘Dust Tracks on a Road‘ is a real pleasure, and not because you get to read much about her adventures.  Rather, Hurston’s memoir is such a joyful read because you get to spend it in her company, and she is outstanding.

Zora Neale Hurston, Class of 1928, Chicago, Ill., November 9, 1934
Zora Neale Hurston

First of all, Zora Neale Hurston is an amazing writer.  I’m talking an off-the-charts, batshit-nanners beast of prose composition.  She has a distinct writerly voice, a sort of folksy twang which is meant to disarm and which will make you think that she is less sophisticated than you.  You will be wrong.  She is so, so good at writing – I really don’t know how to say it better than that.  If the task of a writer is to communicate an idea, or a scene, or a sight, clearly, beautifully, and originally, then Zora Neale Hurston is one of the best American writers I’ve ever read.  Full stop.

Let me give you an example.  Here is a passage that Hurston wrote about her stepmother, the woman her father married when her mother died and whom she hated:

“Not every skunk in the world rates a first-class killing.  Hanging is too good for some folks.  They just need their behinds kicked.  And that is all that woman rated.”  (p. 96)

There are words in that passage, ‘skunk’, ‘folks’, behinds’, which are meant to sound conversational, demotic and casual.  That is not a passage which would, at first glance, impress you with the learning and precision of its author.  But consider that the same author will, only a few pages later, write this:

“There is something about poverty that smells like death.  Dead dreams dropping off the heart like leaves in a dry season and rotting around the feet; impulses smothered too long in the fetid air of underground caves.  The soul lives in a sickly air.  People can be slave-ships in shoes.”  (p. 107)

And you will see that you’re in the hands of a master, someone who deploys colloquialism not because she is herself unsophisticated, but because she has decided that wisdom is best expressed in simple language.

But her incredible facility with language is only part of what makes Hurston so much fun to read.  She was also possessed of a genuinely original outlook.  I can’t think of another writer with a voice at all like hers; there is no part of this book which could have been mistaken for the work of another person.

This distinction doesn’t just reveal itself in the language that she uses; it also comes through in the things she chooses to say.  She’s funny, and wise, and brave, and even though she wears these qualities lightly, they shine through all the time.  In her very framing of the problems of her life, you see a point of view which is novel and charming and courageous, really winning and really admirable.

I know I sound totally gaga about this, but let me give you a few examples, passages that I think are both beautiful and wise, and which I think only she could have written:

“People seldom see themselves changing.  It is like going out in the morning, or in the springtime to pick flowers.  You pick and you wander till suddenly you find that the light is gone and the flowers are withered in your hand.  Then, you say that you must turn back home.  But you have wandered into a place and the gates are closed.  There is no more sharp sunlight.  Gray meadows are all about you where blooms only the asphodel.  You look back through the immutable gates to where the sun still shines on the flowered fields with nostalgic longing, but God pointed men’s toes in one direction.  One is surprised by the passage of time and the distance travelled, but one may not go back.” (p. 65)

“I found out too that you are bound to be jostled in the “crowded street of life.”  That in itself need not be dangerous unless you have the open razors of personal vanity in your pants pockets.  The passers-by don’t hurt you, but if you go around like that, they make you hurt yourself.” (p. 148)

Or this, which was my favorite passage in the whole book, and which I would like to have printed on little leaflets that I can just give to people when I break up with them:

“No two moments are any more alike than two snowflakes.  Like snowflakes, they get that same look from being so plentiful and falling so close together.  But examine them closely and see the multiple differences between them.  Each moment has its own task and capacity, and doesn’t melt down like snow and form again.  It keeps its character forever.  So the great difficulty lies in trying to transpose last night’s moment to a day which has no knowledge of it.  That look, that tender touch, was issued by the mint of the richest of all kingdoms.  That same expression of today is utter counterfeit, or at best the wildest of inflation.  What could be more zestless than passing out cancelled checks?  It is wrong to be called faithless under circumstances like that.  What to do?

I have a strong suspicion, but I can’t be sure that much that passes for constant love is a golded-up moment walking in its sleep.  Some people know that it is the walk of the dead, but in desperation and desolation, they have staked everything on life after death and the resurrection, so they haunt the graveyard.  They build an altar on the tomb and wait there like faithful Mary for the stone to roll away.  So the moment has authority over all of their lives.  They pray constantly for the miracle of the moment to burst its bonds and spread out over time.” (p. 265)

Zora Neale
This is my favorite picture of her.

Sometimes, in reading as in life, you just fall in love with someone.  An author can compel your heart the way a lover can: they’re just right for you, they draw you to them and everything they do amazes you.

And you sound like a dummy about them for a while, the same way that you do when you’re in love.  You talk about them too much, people around you get bored listening to you.  That’s how I feel about Zora Neale Hurston, having read this book.  I’m blown away by how good she is – I want to tell everyone I meet about her.  I want to read everything she’s ever written.  I want to get her words tattooed on my back.

I won’t do that last thing, but I will go back and reread ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God‘.  I can’t wait.

.