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Sunday, April 22, 2001

The book I finished reading most recently is Come a Stranger, by Cynthia Voigt. It's the fifth book I've read in her Tillerman Cycle, a series of young adult novels. Okay, "series" isn't the right word, or she would have called it that. It's an interwoven collection of novels in which small incidents in one might show up as key scenes in another, and major characters in one will appear as incidental characters in another.

The effects these people have on one another, seen from different points of view and at different levels of intensity, shows us how interconnected their lives are, and by extension our own. You can't take for granted that anything you do won't make a lasting impression on someone else.

The themes of the books are different, but they have one more element in common. They show the goodness at the deepest level of the human heart. Difficult people have surprising sides to them, and you can't judge anyone you meet at face value. It's a wonderful way to remind us that we do matter, what we do and who we are, and that everyone has a story to tell.

Currently I'm reading Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell. It's a novel, constructed as a series of nine unique stories told by different characters in different settings. But like the Tillerman Cycle, characters and incidents from each story show up in a different context in the next. And each story is written, not only with a different voice and in a different setting, but in a wholly different genre.

It's an incredible feat of imagination and execution. Gentle tales of young love are interspersed with gritty stories of corporate corruption and fantasies told by disembodied spirits. I'm less than halfway through this one, and I'm eager to see how the threads are sewn together. But even if there's no such payoff, the book still portrays the connections that one life has to other lives, and to all of humanity.

Which brings us to Magnolia. I've wanted to see this movie for a long time, and last night it was on TV at a time when I could sit down and give it my attention. I liked it so much that I watched it twice, which is quite an investment of time, considering it's over three hours long. And the second time started at one in the morning (explaining my sluggishness today, I think).

Magnolia is about many things, but the opening sequence is a brief, documentary-style set piece that spells out the main idea: that people touch each other's lives in the most random ways, either by chance or by some grand design that transcends mere analysis. The movie itself shows the events of one day in Los Angeles, and the journeys of several disparate characters through that day as they leave their marks on one another.

Even the most trifling decision, the movie is saying to us, can make the biggest difference in the course of events. Over and over, someone says "yes" or "no," and the world turns differently because of it.

  • A man must decide whether to visit the dying father who deserted him as a child, and that decision, whichever way it goes, tells him something about himself he didn't know.

  • A woman decides whether she can forgive herself for her infidelity to the husband she realizes too late that she loves.

  • A police officer deals with the conflict between doing his job and his own forgiving nature.

  • A child tries to learn how to cope with the expectations of the adult world he's forced into at too early an age.

There are so many more layers to this movie that I expect to be thinking and writing about it again and again. But it spoke to me profoundly as I was watching because it resonated with the books I've been reading.

not a magnolia, just another weed

We live on a small planet, and we have to find ways to live together without destroying ourselves and each other. Every day, in every encounter, we leave a piece of ourselves behind in the other person. Just as we can hurt each other without realizing it, we can also lift each other up, maybe just an inch at a time.

And we never know when that inch might turn into a mile, and when the kind word or the smile or just a bit of understanding might make change someone's life for the better. We might never know how we affect the next person in the chain, but we can be sure that how we live matters to the wide world beyond our own walls and boundaries.

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Latest recommendations:

Bill, The Daily Epiphany, April 20, A note from Lee

Jessie, Blueberry Hill, April 21, Image of oppression

Other recent recommendations can be found on the links page.
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