Sunday, November 26, 2006
I read "The Catcher in the Rye" for the first time when I was fourteen or fifteen. The narrating character, Holden Caulfield, is sixteen. Now I am twenty-nine. Sixteen has transformed from older and worldly when I first read Catcher, to innocent and naive this time around.
Since my first reading, I've acquainted myself with a major character in the book: New York City. As safe as the city is now, the idea of Holden roaming clubs, hotels, bars, streets and parks alone gave me the most peculiar feeling. Rather than identifying with Holden himself, I found myself seeing the whole novel from the eyes of the adults that he encounters. The idea of a distraught young man wandering aimlessly -- half hoping to bump into some consolation, some explanation -- it all made me want to try helping poor old Holden.
Mr. Antolini's half-sober speech -- his earnest but pathetic attempt to save Holden -- left me completely confused and befuddled when I first read it. In fact, the awkward scene that follows dominated my memory of Mr. Antolini's character. I only remembered that Antolini frightened Holden by patting him on the head. I had forgotten that a paragraph earlier Antolini had tried saving Holden from the impending nervous breakdown.
The book evoked sympathy in me; my first reading was mainly confusion, but I did empathize with Holden. The extra years helped me understand Holden's experience and emotional exhaustion. The claustrophobic sense of a narrow path in life (like being stuck in an elevator going up and down) was a mystery to me then. At fourteen, the world seemed infinite. NYC was a concept, an ideal. Now it is a place I go for work; it is a train ride away. Amazingly, what I gained in understanding, I lost in empathy. Just as the city is no longer just an idea to me, a wealthy but discontent intellectual young man has become familiar too. Holden has become merely an archetype, rather than a blurred reflection.
Memory and witness of illness, suicide, abuse, and psychological breakdowns have filled the gaps in my understanding. Holden's experience, then, has become more external. I know better the kind of demons to whom he is succumbing, but knowledge makes my view of his character third person, rather than first.
Re-reading Catcher provoked intense introspection, but also a few new insights and questions about Holden. What I wonder about most almost makes me feel guilty. I feel terrific sympathy for Holden, but I can't help but wonder: how honest is Holden's account? He explains several times his compulsive lying. So, even though the narrative has the feel of a long confession, I wonder if Holden is being completely honest and forthcoming.
The simultaneous sympathy and distrust for Holden is what I appreciate most this time around. Salinger's telling evokes the very sensation Holden explains in his description of his perfect job as "The Catcher in the Rye". Holden is the child you want to save. Holden is the one oblivious to the cliff. The reader feels the compulsion for, and frustration from, trying to save him.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Goodwin immediately draws you into the Civil War era. The tension and danger are so palpable in her writing, you feel as though you are reading newspaper dispatches instead of a biography. The portrait of the coming war is so vivid, you can practically hear the guns roar at Bull Run.
While the pace and excitement of the writing make the book a pleasure to read, what I admire most is the careful, but not tedious, comparison of Lincoln to his chief rivals for the Presidency. The very men he fought to become President graced his cabinet, and it wasn't all gentility. Lincoln found a way to assert his will, while still accepting counsel from men whose ambitions drove them to attack, badger, undermine, antagonize, deride the man himself.
Goodwin writes with a compelling grace, extolling the Lincoln as a political genius. Her case is well proven; Lincoln must be considered a political genius just for attaining the Presidency from within the ranks of the newly minted Republican party. What I saw in her story, and admired even more, was Lincoln as a management genius.
Lincoln not only survived his political adversaries; he was able to recognize their individual strengths and harness their relentless ambitions to accomplish his own agenda. Goodwin makes a clear, strong case for two personal qualities that defined Lincoln's management style: endless magnanimity; and iron resolve.
Throughout his life, Lincoln avoided two mistakes without exception -- he never held a grudge, and he never reversed public positions. From Goodwin's telling, I would say Lincoln's magnanimity was an innate talent of historic proportions. His consistency in public positions, however, goes far beyond mere talents. Based on this biography, I would argue that Lincoln's remarkably steady public record was the direct result of his cabinet structure. By surrounding himself with powerful, ambitious men that matched his own intellect, Lincoln created a private gauntlet for his own ideas. Often he yielded to the arguments of his "Team of Rivals"1 -- modifying his position or reversing his thinking altogether.
Goodwin details the story of one reversal -- Lincoln had wanted to provide tremendous leniency to the South in Reconstruction. He even initially planned to allow the Confederate legislatures to reconvene and repeal their own articles of secession and rejoin the Union. With his entire cabinet against the idea, he recanted. Yet, many of the players involved expressed the notion that if Lincoln had won over even one of them, he would have held original position.
His was a careful calculus, weighing the opinion of many gifted peers against his own thoughts. Lincoln's careful judgment about when to be swayed and when to be firm shine through as his singular gift.
Goodwin also saves her best work for the end of the book. She unfolds the night of Lincoln's assassination, while maintaining her steady comparison between him and his rivals. The result is a truly literary concoction of tensions, entwined lives, multiple perspectives, and ultimately, tragedy.
1. Quoting the title is something I hate reading, but somehow find irresistible when writing. I apologize also.
2. Princess Bride quote verified at the imdb.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
See just pictures of our hike to Oberberghorn.
After our long ride to the Jungfraujoch, we were ready to get around by foot for a few days. Near
There is bus service from the center of
Beatushohle, and the walk to it, were invigorating. So much so, that they inspired us to take a real hike in the
The hike we chose was regarded as beginner level – mild ascents and descents that net to very little altitude changes. We were meant to walk from Schynige Platt to Oberberghorn (a small rocky peak) and from there on to Laucherhorn (a slightly bigger, rockier peak). The Schynige Platte hosts not only a train station, but also a high-altitude dairy farm . We took the Wandernweg (hiking path) on the way out, which wound mostly through grassy highland plains. We finally reached the Laucherhorn, where we tried to take some fake stunt pictures of me “climbing” the
On the way home, we decided to take the Panaramenweg (sp? scenic route), which was a LOT more exciting , and included some sincerely panoramic lookouts . Alpine beauty was in abundance for flowers , big skies , jagged peaks , rolling valleys , and combinations of all the above . The whole way is marked off with tidy, swiss-made yellow signs that include the destinations and the estimated walking times . The paths are dirt trails that have been rutted into the landscape , so your feet are always a few inches below the grass, as demonstrated by Caitie: . The Swiss manage to make even the thin air of high altitude comfortable, and the trails are dotted with little family vacation homes . On the way home, we walked well above the trail we took on the way out, and were able to peak over the vertical edge of the Platte to see both lakes and the town of Interlaken as well as Moench and Jungfrau (fogged in for our trip) . The terrain continues to steepen the whole way back, which I tried in vain to capture on film . To come as close to the climbing experience as possible, short of going on belay, you can take the short but extremely steep trip to the top of Oberberghorn (that rocky peak for which the trail is named) . The hike around the base of the Oberberghorn is a tight switchback, with the turnaround corners apparently levitating over the mountain valleys. The final ascent is assisted by a ladder and then a gangway that ultimately provides a view from a small cave out onto the rest of the Alps . The small peak pokes through an altitude layer and you could feel a significant difference in the air -- which only adds to excitement and perception that you are really climbing a mountain.
For slightly less excitement (and probably equal safety), the end of the hike features a nifty slide (sorry, I took the video with a rotated camera) and a map (shouldn’t that be at the beginning of the hike, maybe we went around the loop backwards) .