Elegance

March 23, 2015

In my first post, I wrote about my many new endeavors in the past year. Of these adventures, starting a book club is certainly somewhere near the top of the list!

Said book club originated from an on-the-fly hallway conversation with my friend and coworker, Millayna, this past December. As we made our way to our classrooms that morning, we both lamented the fact that we had never been a part of a book club (yes, we’re nerdy like that)…until Millayna finally stopped, looked at me, and said something along the lines of, “Um…why don’t we just start our own?” Looking back on this conversation, the whole situation seems so hilariously simple (as problems often do in hindsight) — I’m not sure why it took us so long to come up with this solution, but I’m sure glad Millayna suggested it that day!

Although we discussed our first book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, in January, and that feels like “ages and ages” ago (“it’s been a long, long time…and I never wanted anything from you”…can you finish that quote, fellow Zoolander fans?), the message I took away from the book is so in keeping with the core purpose of my blog that I can’t help but tell you about it.

hedgehog

Here’s a bit of background about the characters:

  • Madame Michele, or Renee, describes herself as “short, ugly, and plump,” and seemingly spends her days watching bad TV, eating casseroles, and working as a lowly concierge for high end apartments. However, readers quickly discover that all of this is a class-based facade she works quite hard to maintain. Behind closed doors, Renee enjoys art, Russian literature, gourmet food, and philosophy, and thinks in ridiculously gorgeous language. Basically, everything the residents see is just a front; she finds it necessary to adhere to what society expects of someone of her social status. People around her have to work past her “prickly exterior” (like the hedgehog!) to see the beautiful, intelligent woman that lies within.
  • Paloma, a 12 year old girl, is much like Renee in many ways, but most notably in her deep, genius level thinking. Due to this quality, she finds herself drastically different from the other seventh grade students at her posh private school (she describes the distance as “an abyss”), but does her best to keep up appearances as an average student despite the challenges she faces in doing so (I don’t suppose it’s ever easy to hide one’s true self). Ultimately, Paloma comes to the conclusion that, in life, “people aim for the stars, but they end up like goldfish in a bowl.” Well…that’s uplifting, no? Having come to this depressing conclusion, Paloma has determined she will commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. In the meantime, she keeps a notebook with two sections: Profound Thoughts and Journal of the Movement of the World.

If you’re wondering where the “in keeping with the core purpose of this blog” part of this comes in (I know, this all sounds pretty heavy at this point), stick with me. Here’s the real deal: despite their lots in life and their struggles to reveal their innermost thoughts to world around them, these characters have a knack for seeing incredible moments of beauty in their otherwise mundane lives.  In reflecting back on the book, I think the best way to demonstrate this lovely way of looking at life is by sharing a selection of quotes from the novel itself. Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.”
  • “There’s so much humanity in a love of trees, so much nostalgia for our first sense of wonder, so much power in just feeling our own insignificance when we are surrounded by nature…yes, that’s it: just thinking about trees and their indifferent majesty and our love for them teaches us how ridiculous we are – vile parasites squirming on the surface of the earth – and at the same time how deserving of life we can be, when we can honor this beauty that owes us nothing.”
  • “Those who feel inspired, as I do, by the greatness of small things will pursue them to the very heart of the inessential where, cloaked in everyday attire, this greatness will emerge from within a certain ordering of ordinary things and from the certainty that all is as it should be, the conviction that it is fine this way.”
  • “I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that’s it, an always within never.”

see beauty

Alright, as I’ve managed to quote Zoolander and discuss philosophy in one post, I think it’s time to call this a wrap. Who said the two were mutually exclusive? Well…that’s for another day entirely.

Before I go, I have to ask:

What was your most recent “always within never,” a moment, where you noticed an “odd moment of beauty, where time [was] no longer the same”?

Happy thinking (and reading!)…

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5 Comments

  • Cory Lester

    I am definitely going to read this one. I’ve been stuck in “Atlas Shrugged” and my head needs a break; I need put it down for awhile and read “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”

    March 24, 2015 at 9:01 am Reply
    • Carolyn

      Oh man, I bet you need a break! I’m not sure if this book will help much with that situation — it’s a bit of a brain workout — but it is very good once you get rolling. Emily Giffin books are my go-to beach reads. Such good chick lit!

      March 24, 2015 at 8:42 pm Reply
  • Carmen Green

    Interesting to think about. It is easy for me to think about the thousands of “mom” moments where beauty screams in neon flashing lights! Those moments are embedded in my memory forever. What is challenging is to find beauty in the everyday – work, commute and endless meetings. Sometimes it is the kind expression of one person to another you have the opportunity to witness by happenstance. A beautiful spring day which brings people outside to enjoy the healing gardens as they rest from their jobs as caregivers or family members in stressful situations. It is easy to overlook this kind of “mundane” beauty but perhaps the most important to find meaning in the ordinary.

    March 23, 2015 at 10:15 pm Reply
  • grandma

    I have always enjoyed reading books you recommend, and will try this one.

    March 23, 2015 at 8:59 pm Reply
    • Carolyn

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Grandma!

      March 23, 2015 at 10:48 pm Reply

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