Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A verb not a noun

When I was a kid the word "friend" was a noun.  Then there was Facebook and friend (as well as Facebook itself) became a verb as well as a noun.  We friend (verb) others on Facebook and they become our Facebook friends (noun).  I have heard students shout to another "facebook me". This assumes of course that the two acquaintances have already been friended.

But maybe it wasn't Zuckerberg who made friend a verb.  Maybe friend was both a noun and a verb from the start.

I have been reading quite a bit this last week or so.  I took two days off at the end of last week, had a couple of relatively long plane rides, and just got into some books.

A couple of weeks back I read an article about an author I'd never heard of previously.  The author, Penelope Lively, is in her 80s and has been--and is still--churning them out.  According to the piece I read, her books are often about how a single event that may seem insignificant can alter many lives.  A regular reader of this blog (and one with a good memory) might remember one I wrote called "Here There and Anywhere" about how a decision I made to get on a line at a certain time had an effect on several lives.  How it All Began is a book I bought by Lively after reading the article about her. It is, absolutely, a book about how a single event can have dramatic effects. In the novel a sixty something year old former teacher is mugged in London.  Her daughter has to take time off from her work as a personal assistant to an academic in order to tend to the mother. The academic's niece has to take the place of the daughter on a professional trip. Because of this all sorts of things happen.  An affair is revealed, a business takes off and then doesn't, an immigrant falls in love with a married woman, a television series begins and then is aborted--other things as well.  It is a fun read--many laughs along the way.  The point of the novel though is simple.  One's life can take significant turns because of seemingly insignificant events.  A downside of the novel is that if you are not familiar with British slang and just not a fan of British writing, you might find the book tough sledding.

Touch and Go is a classic beach read.  I'd not read anything by the author, Lisa Gardner, previously but she has written a bunch of novels. This one was recommended as a fast read and it is that. It is more substantive than some of its competitors but still on the ridickalus side.  A wealthy man, his wife, and their daughter are kidnapped.  The book is about the kidnapping and how sleuths find out who did the deed.  It really is a page turner.  Can you put it down? Yes.  But you don't mind picking it up.  I'm not sure there are enough clues to allow a reader to figure out who did it or how it was done, but there are a number of interesting suspects.  This is nothing like a good Scott Turow novel or Richard Price.  But if you are going to the beach and want something to zip through, you might enjoy it.

I just finished Trajectory a collection of four short stories by Richard Russo. I will read anything Russo writes.  I bought this, in fact, well before it was published putting in my order with Amazon  so that they would send it to me when it came out. I am not a big fan of short stories in general, but I liked Russo's last collection The Whore's Child.  So, I was looking forward to reading these.  The short stories in Trajectory are really not that short. The two briefer ones are about 35 pages each.  The second longest about 70, and the long one is close to 100 pages--more like a novella than a short story.  One of the four seems to be about Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  Newman was the lead character when Russo's Nobody's Fool came out as a movie.  He also had a role in the tv series based on another of Russo's novels, Empire Falls.  I liked the story about Newman and two of the others, but these three pale compared to the story called  "Interventions."  This 35 pager will stay with me a while. "Interventions" is about a realtor who has cancer who's trying to sell the house of a woman who is a hoarder.  The woman will not listen to the realtor when he suggests that in order to sell the house some of the many boxes that litter the house have to go.  And the realtor seems reluctant to take the advice of his wife and an old buddy who give him the name of a specialist in Boston who may be able to address the cancer.  What happens is that the realtor intervenes and gets the clutter-a metaphor if there ever was one--out of the woman's home.  And the realtor's wife and the friend intervene and make the realtor see a specialist for the cancer.  My synopsis doesn't make the story sound like a lot of laughs but there are a lot of laughs in "Interventions" and the message is important. We all need interventionists.

In "Interventions" particularly, but in How it all Began and Touch and Go the stories involve friendship and love. I remember reading a quote a while back that, in essence, suggested we need strong ears to hear criticism and those who are willing to be critical perform an act of friendship.

Those who notice when we are going down a path that is self destructive and are willing to intervene are friends because they friend us. They tell us what we do not want to hear, and may redirect us to another avenue that is in our best interests.   These people's interventions reflect what was the case before Zuckerberg came on the scene. Sure friend as in "to be a friend" can be a noun, but in order to be a friend you have to friend as well.   Similarly, we all know what it feels like to be in love (noun) but a lover--discounting the connotation of sex that comes along with that word--is one whose behavior reflects an awareness that love, the noun, needs love, the verb.

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