When I first learned of this sensationally titled book with the pinky perky cover photo of the author from the New York Times Book Review, I knew I had to read it because of its boldness and frankness that I believe would strike the chords of many who must have felt or wished it (let’s be honest). However, it was more like seeking a kindred spirit in such a titled book because I felt exhilarated with camaraderie and, once exonerated from such membership, a desire to revolt against mothers.
But the book isn’t an angst-ridden, hate-filled, violence-saturated memoir nowadays in-vogue among celebrities who live to tell their dark life histories. Although it isn’t precisely wholesomely hall-mark like loving family history, it is worth pointing out the moments of love and warmth that childhood memories sometimes invoke because we thrive as human beings on those memories. McCurdy’s mother may not have been perfect, but who is an ideal mother anyway? The Bard once said that look not with the eye but with the mind. She was the one who saw talents in her daughter, encouraged them, and made them blossom into a pink dandelion when many parents either ignore or overlook the bests of their children for their future. Although I can understand McCurdy’s disaffection with her passionate mother controlling her life, I am envious of having such a mother who was willing to sacrifice her hard labor for her daughter’s success.
The cover photo is puzzling. The author has a smile but not smiling, or instead trying to smile but is subdued as if her emotions are changing instantly or frozen in the moments between joy and sadness, independence and confusion in the transition of belonging to freedom. I can’t honestly fathom what the author thinks inside, but one thing is certain she loves her mother, who is now unburdened with the cares and pain of the world. Perhaps, that is why she is glad her mother died.
I believe history is a branch of literature full of events and stories made by artists and artificers weaving facts into myth, and vice versa, into a timeless tapestry of the world that was, is and will be. In that regard, Kipling is an artist who spins beautiful tales of how animals became what they look like into a poetic wheel of ear-delighting and cadenced words aided by gorgeous illustrations distinctively graceful and dazzlingly beautiful.
Kipling’s evolution of animals explains why they look the way they are, such as a Leopard with spots, a Carmel hump, and many more. The stories become a fable and a history of its kind. It’s a literary version of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the wonderful menageries of Man and Beast that cannot live alone despite the differences in species because we are the inhabitants of this world, Earth. But, above all the fantastic tales of wonder, the Cat’s tale stands out in the story and the subject. Kipling’s Cat is proud but not arrogant, independent but affectionate, and vain but graceful. It’s a cat who walks by himself, and everything is alike to him and nothing else. The Cat is a beautiful stranger even if he likes to be a family, a kind of forever loner, the Puss in Boots with a cowboy hat and an empty holster. Kipling’s writer’s eyes saw the romantic solitude in a cat, and the result is one poetic Cat that rhymes well like the graceful way cats do their amazing somersaults.
Just So Stories are not just for children even though it is classified in Children’s literature on the shelves of libraries. It’s a book for everyone who loves legends and magic, who still has a childlike innocence that refused to put away as an adult because it’s in nature. The stories are not for academic analysis or psychoanalysis but simply for the enjoyment of the mind and the delight of the heart. Remember Freud’s saying, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” So are Just So Stories, so delightful and so pleasant.
A man without a country is a connoisseur of humanity, appreciating the universality of sentiment and reason common to all humankind beyond the demarcation of the territorial, cultural, and racial ambits. In that regard, Kurt Vonnegut is not only a great American writer but also an honorable citizen of the world.
Vonnegut was liberal and socialist without being Marxist, but he was also a traditionalist and Christian without being conservative and religious. He was on the side of the underdogs because he regarded himself as one by being a kind of black sheep in the literary circles for his studying engineering, not English literature. However, he wasn’t a grumpy sullen dark literary figure but a funny, talkative writer who stroke conversations with anyone in daily life. Vonnegut refused to lose his days in unsocial solitude and decided to become – as Samuel Johnson called – the sun in his evening declination, remitting his splendor and maintaining his magnitude, pleasing more, though intimidating less.
A Man without a Country is a charming little book packed with thoughts, wits, and knowledge. Vonnegut was only a human because he saw the heart of human nature and wanted to help people bring it out and nourish it thus: “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” Vonnegut was a writer who practiced what he preached. So why not read this book by such a writer?