Mildred's help came in the form of a reading list, of several reading lists over the months that followed, and with movie theaters temporarily off-limits, for the first time in her life Rose satisfied her hunger for stories with novels, good novels, not the crime novels and bestsellers she might have gravitated to on her own but the books that Mildred recommended, classics to be sure, but always selected with Rose in mind, books that Mildred felt Rose would enjoy, which meant that Moby-Dick and Ulysses and The Magic Mountain were never on any of the lists, since those books would have been too daunting for the meagerly trained Rose, but how many others there were to choose from, and as the months passed and her baby grew inside her, Rose spent her days swimming in the pages of books, and although there were a few disappointments among the dozens she read (The Sun Also Rises, for example, which struck her as fake and shallow), nearly all the others lured her in and kept her engrossed from first to last, among them Tender Is The Night, Pride and Prejudice, The House of Mirth, Moll Flanders, Vanity Fair, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, The Charterhouse of Parma, First Love, Dubliners, Light in August, David Copperfield, Middlemarch, Washington Square, The Scarlet Letter, Main Street, Jane Eyre, and numerous others, but of all the writers she discovered during her confinement, it was Tolstoy who said the most to her, Tolstoy, who understood all of life, it seemed to her, everything there was to know about the human heart and the human mind, no matter if the heart or mind belonged to a man or a woman, and how was it possible, she wondered, for a man to know what Tolstoy knew about women, it made no sense that one man could be all men and all women, and therefore she marched through most of what Tolstoy had written, not just the big novels like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Resurrection, but the shorter works as well, the novellas and stories, none more powerful to her than the one-hundred-page Family Happiness, the story of a young bride and her gradual disillusionment, a work that hit so close to home that she wept at the end, and when Stanley returned to the apartment that evening, he was alarmed to see her in such a state, for even though she had finished the story at three in the afternoon, her eyes were still wet with tears. Of course he knew beauty doesn’t exist. He hadn’t known then but he knew now. Beauty is a matter of perspective, subjectivity. Cultural prejudice. You require a human eye, a human brain, a human vocabulary. In nature, there’s nothing. Still beauty gives comfort. Who knows why? I quite enjoy these detective stories. There's an art in them, you know. (He was defensive.) Where was I in my composition? At a standstill.
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