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Falling in Love Again . . . with Barbara Holland
on June 13, 2006
As an aging rock star named "Bruce" once sang (famously in his ode to a "Pink Cadillac") -- "Love is bigger than a Honda . . . it's bigger than a Subaru." How much bigger is captured perfectly by Barbara Holland. (Please see end of this review.) Ms Holland is miles ahead of anyone else in reminding us what "true love" once meant.
This book, "Wasn't the Grass Greener? - 33 reasons why life isn't as good as it used to be," provides (I believe) the finest essay ever written on the subject of "Falling in Love." Deservedly, it is twice the length of any other chapter here (14 pages) -- and parked, like a stretch limo, between a little Subaru-of-a-chapter called "Radiators" and a sort of `Civic' titled "Election Night."
Honestly, I can't remember the last time I read a book of essays where each is funnier (and simultaneously more poignant) than the last. My favorites so far (I'm only midway through the book!) include "Suntans," "Old Things," and "Clotheslines." The latter two, read aloud to my wife, left me laughing and crying simultaneously.
After scanning the contents page, I opened the book to "Suntans" (I'm trying to get one, for the same reasons Barbara sings their praises,) Then, I skipped ahead to "Taverns," "Pianos," "Poetry," and "Porches" (not the car -- the house feature that Barbara's grandmother's Washington home had three of).
Moments ago, I read "Falling in Love" -- and I simply couldn't wait to finish the book before writing a review. I believe if Mark Twain were still with us, he would declare Barbara Holland his favorite writer - and agree she is the best "iconoclastic essayist" of the last hundred years.
As an incentive . . . to your purchasing this book (and I'll buy your copy if you don't enjoy it, and give to a loved one for Christmas) . . . some snippets from "Falling in Love."
"Last spring the Washington Post sent a reporter to cover the prom of my old high school. They found that tuxedos are still rented, dresses agonized over, bow ties still assembled, and expensive products applied to the hair and skin for the grand occasion, just as in the olden days.
"The news was that fully half of the celebrants came with friends and groups of friends of their own gender. Those with dates were offhand about them; they'd been chosen at the last minute from a pool of classmate possibilities.
"One girl had asked a boy who said yes then changed his mind, claiming that he wanted to be fresh and rested for his SATs the next day. Another girl said she was relieved to have no date because, `You don't have any pressure with friends' . . .
"I graduated from that school. I went to the prom with orchids pinned to my chest, little cream-colored orchids with purple edging. My date was madly, helplessly, desperately in love with me. I too was in love, though with someone else, who loved another. We were all in love.
"The whole school. In love or in recovery, bruised but brave, still carrying a torch, still writing terrible poetry, and poking coins into the jukebox to endlessly replay the ballad we danced to last summer.
"The intensity of our passion was the measure of our worth, and he or she who loved but reasonably was a wingless soul, a poor spiritless clod. . . .
"Male and female alike, we dissected the nature of true love. It was understood that what we called `The Real Thing' would strike only once in a lifetime, and if it misfired or came to grief, the rest of our days would be hardly worth living . . .
"Today I drive past as the local high school is letting out and hundreds of students clot the lawns and sidewalks, some alone, some with a friend, most in chatting groups. Nobody walks with his arm around another; nobody is holding hands . . . and the songs blasting from their car radios don't mention love . . .
"Love improved sex. Even the most unadorned and standardized sex, combined with love, produced a jolt. Currently, to judge from the Internet and specialty shops . . . plain sex is no longer worth doing - and needs a lot of seasoning . . .
(I remember) "T" and I after a sleepless night of love, staggered blearily forth and caught a bus toward our respective offices. The bus was crowded and we were jostled apart in the aisle. Over the shoulders of strangers our eyes briefly connected, and I would have fallen down if I hadn't been wedged in the crowd.
"Various writers have tried to describe this moment, usually by comparing it to a massive jolt of electricity, but that sounds painful. Others mention an explosion of interior light so intense that nothing ever quite looks the same afterwards, but that sounds too passive.
"I have no description to offer. Except that it lasted for perhaps a full second, and in the decades since, I haven't come across anything worth trading it for."