Monday, September 24, 2012

Words and Words

After the glut of middle grade I've been reading lately, I needed to change up the pace a little and went to my friendly neighborhood to hunt down an out-of-print copy of The Seventh Horse, a collection of short stories by Leonora Carrington. Ms. Carrington was a British surrealist painter who spent the majority of her working life in Mexico. Her art is less avant-garde than Man Ray, more digestible than Salvator Dali--to me it looks like the illustrations of crazy fairytales. I only learned about Leonora Carrington last summer, but I like her paintings a lot, and I was pretty excited to find out she was also a writer. I guess I was not expecting a surrealist's writing to be quite so...surreal.

Here is an excerpt from her short story, "The Skeleton's Holiday":
It happened one day that the skeleton drew some hazelnuts that walked about on little legs across mountains, that spit frogs out of mouth, eye, ear, nose and other openings and holes. The skeleton took fright like a skeleton meeting a skeleton in bright daylight. Quickly he had a pumpkin detector grow on the side of his head, with a day side like patchouli bread and a night side like the egg of Columbus, and set off, half-reassured, to see a fortune-teller.
What the what?? Was that just a well-played game of Mad Libs? That's the end of the story, by the way. Leonora Carrington was deeply interested in spiritualism, alchemy, and the occult, and apparently she used a lot of code words to dictate meaning to her art, so I will probably never know what meaning she hopefully intended with her writing. At least not without more research on the subject than I am willing to participate in.

But as crazy as they are, I'm actually kind of enjoying these surreal short stories. As readers, we're used to a predictable progression of words, building sentences with understandable meaning that form stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. Reading about a philosophical skeleton who likes to play dirty tricks for no discernible reason (and for what it's worth, the excerpt I posed was really the most extreme thing I saw--it's not all quite that nuts!) or a three hunters cursed so that all their trophies turn into sausages--well, they're not nearly as satisfying and it's certainly not for everyone, but as an occasional detour, I think they're worthwhile just for the marvelously bizarre imagery.

What do you read when you want to switch gears?

Self Portrait, 1937


  1. Nice! It's always fun to find a literary nook where you can just drop all normalcy and just embrace the strangeness. Funny enough, that's why Dali's one of my fave painters. :P

    Right now, my to-be-read list is kind of all over the place, so whenever I want to switch gears, I just move on to the next one. :) Otherwise, I go to my TV shows to get a break (one of which is too embarrassing to mention, but I might confess it to you one day). :)

    1. Yeah, I have to say some of the newer cable shows are excellent examples of smart use of writing devices. And after watching the Emmys, I'm going to have to finally take your advice and turn on Sherlock. And I'm pretty sure your secret favorite tv show is Jersey Shore... ;)

    2. Nope, but good guess!

      OMG, Sherlock...

  2. Love this, sounds interesting! For me, when I just need a break, it's poetry! I suck at writing it, but LOVE to read it. I have several collections that I go through and skim over my favorites. And recently I stumbled across some Walt Whitman at my mom's house. Good stuff.

  3. I am such a creature of habit...I never read out of my comfort zone. :-\

  4. "Was that just a well-played game of Mad Libs?" <---Haha. A similar thought ran through my mind. I was happy to find out I wasn't just an idiot. :)

  5. Wow, that was definitely strange!

    I read all over the place-- classics, high fantasy, sci fi, historical, YA of all genres...I play around a lot with my reading!

  6. I had to re-read that excerpt several times! When I need a change of pace I tend to gravitate towards short stories, as well. Generally I grab one of Haruki Murakami's short story collections.

    Also, I've tagged you over at my blog!