All the Names They Used for God

 

Y’all: reading on the metro is my new favorite thing.

Living in Glenmont has been a great way to transition from small-town SC back to big city life (ish). Because Glenmont is the end of the Red Line, the trains only go one way; you can’t mess it up!

I get excited when the Red Line train to Shady Grove is an old one. Unlike in the shiny new trains, in the inexplicably carpeted (!) old trains, you can put your knees up on the seat in front of you, creating the perfect place to rest a book.

Reveling in the heady freedom of a teacher on winter break, I decided to head downtown to visit the National Gallery of Art. Half the fun was picking books for the 30-minute, one-way metro ride (I told you Glenmont was big city-ish…). On the way, I did my homework: the next chapter in While We’re on the Topic: On Language, Acquisition, and Classroom Practice by Bill VanPatten, or BVP as he’s known in CI circles. I’m taking a class with Elevate Education Consulting called “Teaching with Comprehensible Input: The Why, What and How.” It’s been a really great experience so far, very practical and thought-provoking. BVP’s book, too. But, there’s a fine line between conversational and condescending, and BVP is pushing my buttons. From the Foundational Readings for Chapter 2: “Although Noam Chomsky is, unarguably, the force behind contemporary linguistics...I have not included any of his writings here, as they are too advanced and technical for our purposes” (Van Patten 33). Unnecessary, BVP! Don’t tell me what not to read! (I’m probably being petty…)

NGA Sculpture Garden. It was a balmy 60-something degrees in December.

NGA Sculpture Garden. It was a balmy 60-something degrees in December.

 
 

The National Gallery of Art is beautiful, but I should stop pretending I care all that much about portraiture or anything before impressionism. What takes my breath away or makes my jaw drop (literally) is modern and even contemporary art, with all its “Untitled”s, randomness, and rule-breaking.

I got totally sucked in by Rachel Whiteread’s exhibit in the East Building, and unexpectedly so. She creates sculptures out of molds of negative space, which sounds trippy to begin with, and it is, but it’s also somehow very moving: sad, contemplative, and sometimes creepy. The exhibit spans her career and is accompanied by a beautiful documentary. 10/10, would recommend, will go back.

 
“Rachel Whiteread’s sculpture   Ghost     (1990). Considered the artist’s breakthrough work,  Ghost  is a plaster cast of the entire interior of a room in a North London Victorian home” ( NGA website ). Security guard for scale; it’s huge!

“Rachel Whiteread’s sculpture Ghost (1990). Considered the artist’s breakthrough work, Ghost is a plaster cast of the entire interior of a room in a North London Victorian home” (NGA website). Security guard for scale; it’s huge!

 

Now to what you’re ostensibly here for: All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva. A gift from a dear, dear friend, this short story collection was a quick read because it was so compelling. Back on the metro, on a new train, *sigh*, I tore through the first story almost without breathing. A lot of the story takes place in a cave, and this claustrophobic reader couldn’t breathe until I thought the protagonist could, too!

Lack of air continues as a theme when the next narrator suffers an accident that damages his lungs. Overall, the characters don’t seem to say what they mean, or can’t, and their stories feel contemplative. The collection is far, far-ranging in setting: from a barren Old West frontier, to John Milton’s sick bed, to a not-so-distant future with snot-like alien overlords. Warning: the physicality of that alien story, “Manus”, made me want to barf. And also had me staring at my hands in a way that must have seemed really odd. I finished the collection on a plane, so maybe the turbulence didn’t help...

Overall, Sachdeva’s stories combine futuristic fantasy and modern fables, lifting you up and dropping you in diverse contexts with disparate characters. Nevertheless, they stay connected through themes of human connection, identity, and loss. Might bury it safely under a stack of books so those aliens can’t get me, but overall, a great read.

Next up: Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. A sweet novel that had me giggling and then crying, once again on a plane. Happy reading!

 
Mark Rothko hits you as you climb the last stairs to the top of the National Gallery’s East Building. The skylight made it all seem church-like, but interestingly “ Rothko Chapel ” is another place entirely.

Mark Rothko hits you as you climb the last stairs to the top of the National Gallery’s East Building. The skylight made it all seem church-like, but interestingly “Rothko Chapel” is another place entirely.

Maggie DunlapComment