Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reaching Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Award yesterday. I first read this book several months ago, upon recommendation of fellow Inkpotter Anne Ursu. I'm delighted Stead's book won the big award; there are times when you read or listen to or look at a work of art and can only murmur, Holy Cow.

Though I'm quite certain I've had those moments throughout my life (though perhaps not always responding as eloquently as "Holy Cow"), the first time I can pinpoint such a reaction was about thirteen years ago. I was in New York City for the very first time. I was in NYC for the Edgar Awards. My novel Thin Ice was a finalist, and it did not win. The day after Not Winning, my editor and I went to Ellis Island, an excursion that will, I assure you, put most disappointments into perspective.

The next day I was on my own and I went to the Guggenheim in hopes of seeing some of the museum's Kandinsky collection. There wasn't much of that hanging, but I did find two small galleries covered with paintings by Helen Frankenthaler. I lead a small, quiet life and until then I'd never heard of Frankenthaler. That afternoon I spent about two hours sitting on hard gallery benches staring at her paintings.

I'm a happily married woman but--just between you and me--I'm not sure that falling in love with the good man who is my husband and the father of my four children knocked me out the way Frankenthaler's paintings did that day.

Art is personal and art is powerful. With that sentimental thought in mind (and with a salute to Rebecca Stead), here's my list of artistic perfection:

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (Maud Hart Lovelace)
Mountains and Sea (Helen Frankenthaler)
My Fair Lady (Lerner and Lowe)
The Ninth Symphony (Beethoven)

And I'll know I'm in Heaven when I open my eyes and discover I'm in a front row seat in Carnegie Hall and Judy Garland is on stage.

Your list?


  1. Don't have enough brainpower at the moment to make a whole list, but a song comes to mind--Uncertain Smile by The The. I've always thought it the perfect happy-sad mix. Also, I recently re-read Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins and was practically falling to my knees in worship every other page. That's a good sign of perfection, I guess.

  2. My language was more colorful than yours, Marsha, but as pretty much everyone within a certain radius of me know, I had that reaction with When You Reach Me. (It'll be your common book this summer, Hamline friends.) The play Wit. Avenue Q. Assassins. The Magician's Assistant and The Time Traveler's Wife. Seeing Bobby Short sing cabaret in New York...

  3. Sir Frank Dicksee's La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
    A reproduction of this painting hangs in my classroom, along with a version by John William Waterhouse. "It is based upon a poem by John Keats, also called "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." Keats's poem, sometimes referred to as the last Romantic work, greatly influenced many of the Pre-Raphaelites and became a favorite subject of their painting. It tells the story of a fairy woman who seduces a "knight at arms" and leaves him to wither away into a slow death, surrounded by a dead world.” I am certain those of you who have read my recent work may understand why this painting (and poem) has an influence on me. ;)
    The Voice of Sting (Specifically Moon Over Bourbon Street)
    The Voice of Sarah McLachlan
    Dune by Frank Herbert
    The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein

  4. In other words, Jason, La Belle Dame Sans Merci has you in thrall?

    (Off to look up these paintings....)

  5. Marsha, I did look up Helen Franenthaler. Thank you. I had never seen her work, even in art school or museum adventures. I've often noticed that the most beautiful music will produce a pure color in my mind: Tchaikovsky was the composer's music being played when I heard clearly the color red for the first time. In paintings I feel the most perfectly communicated work makes a sound. When I look at an oceanscape, and I hear the thunder of the waves audibly-- I know it is a good painting. I once saw a slide of a Christian artist's depiction of Christ on the cross. It was an abstract piece about his last breath. I clearly heard an enormously loud heart beat--a ka-thump--that nearly threw me off my chair. I haven't kept an adequate record of these experiences. I can only assume that beauty crosses barriers that transcend the senses. In literature, I see the scenes as I read them. They come back to me more clearly than my own memories. Then I have to remind myself I've never been to Narnia, England or Mrs. Tiggywinkle's laundry room though I feel so certain I can walk the paths myself.

  6. I think many women have the powers of La Belle Dame Sans Merci - I think it translates to - The beautiful woman without mercy... I think many people become easily bewildered because of a simple contrast in thinking patterns (men & women). A straight forward guy can easily be swayed by a crafty young lass, and the trap is sprung! :) It almost seems magical.

  7. Polly, you've got the makings of a great essay, there.

  8. Mauna Leo by Keali'i Reichel (music)
    My great grandmothers paintings (and now my aunts which are both stunningly beautiful but personal)
    Island Rose by Robert Louis Stevenson (poetry)

  9. Marsha, I like others am amazed that your brain is able to contemplate greatness in art. I keep thinking about my choices. I do know that I would like to time travel with you to hear Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. Let me know the date.