Thursday, July 10, 2008

50 Book Challenge #10: About Alice by Calvin Trillin

This is a slightly expanded version of a very moving tribute essay by the author to his wife, originally published in the New Yorker. If you read the article, as I did, you don't really need the book. But you might want to own it anyway. You might not want to read it and look at your partner and ask "but will he love me like Calvin loved Alice?" as one young woman who wrote Trillin to console him on the loss of his wife. We did not know the real Alice, but we certainly knew what Trillin felt about her.

I never read Trillin's books, most of which are fun gastronomical adventures as he traveled the nation in search of the perfect barbeque. But now I want to, if only to get a glimpse at the life he had with his beloved wife, her straight-laced George to his wacky Gracie, while they were still living it together. How much one can learn by reading the lives of others! Even if we are not meant to glean any particular insight, to read a biography of John Adams and his wife Abigail and their lifelong partnership--how can we not learn something about love? Externalizing the study of the human condition--here, we read a novel, there, we read a poem--will necessarily bring us back to ourselves if we reflect upon it. Such lessons can be learned anywhere, but particularly by studying the lives of others. Your approach may be historical, sociological, anthropological, or literary, but in examining the actions and motives of others, you turn a mirror unto yourself. There are many ways to learn about love. The first, obviously, is to experience love--the full gamut of pain to pleasure, to give and receive, to have and lose. The second, and no less importantly, is to think about love. What it means for you to have love, and what it means for you to give love--completely. This is a book about love, and there's plenty of lessons in it.

This book is tremendously moving, funny, and sad. Recommended.


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