Who uses it: Catholics
What it means: The creation of Mary, mother of Jesus, without original sin. Not to be confused with "virgin birth," which is Jesus's birth to Mary, though she had not "known man."
How you can use it: To describe something absolutely pure.
I should have used this phrase yesterday, since yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception -- and no, I'm ashamed to say, I didn't go to Mass. St. Joseph's no longer has a resident priest, and the Mass schedule's been drastically reduced, so I can never remember whether or when it still has weekday Masses.
This week I indulged myself by rereading two of my favorite books -- Lamb, by Christopher Moore, and Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk -- and I read Talking to the Ground, Douglas Preston's wonderful memoir of his family's 1992 horseback journey over the trail of the Navajo god Monster-Slayer. Talking to the Ground is a sort of companion volume to the equally fantastic Cities of Gold, which recounts Preston's horseback trip in the footsteps of Coronado; both are fascinating histories, as well as thoughtful descriptions of the modern West.
But let's get to the second half of last week's list, Best Books I Read in 2005.
Tod Goldberg, Simplify. Tod Goldberg writes present-tense narration well enough to prove my argument that most people should leave it alone. In this collection of short stories, he offers us a rogue's gallery of male narrators with damaged lives -- some self-inflicted, some just the luck of the draw. Some of them do terrible things, some of them see terrible things, and some of them even meet Jesus and Elvis -- but everyone's just trying to connect and stay alive.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. The best book I read this year, a deceptively simple story about the friendship of three people who are more and less than what they seem. Even when you think you've figured out what's going on, Ishiguro surprises you; this book is a mystery, a love story, science fiction, and true horror, but most of all, it's a meditation on what it means to be human.
Laura Lippman, To The Power of Three. I have the privilege of knowing an extraordinarily gifted 19-year-old girl -- that would be you, Claire -- and I remember, myself, how intense, important, and permanent everything felt at that age. For those of you who didn't go through that -- or those of you who've forgotten what it was like -- Laura Lippman wrote this book, ostensibly about a school shooting but really about the passionate intensity of brilliant adolescents.
George Pelecanos, Hard Revolution. I should have read this last year, when it came out, but I didn't; it's okay, though, because this is a book that people should still be reading 25, 50, even 100 years from now. Pelecanos has used the format of the crime novel to give us a cultural history of Washington, D.C., in the same way Walter Mosley's done for Los Angeles. This book stretches the decade from 1959 to 1968, using one family's history to explore the reasons for the riots that almost destroyed our nation's capital. This year's Drama City was excellent, too, but I think Hard Revolution will stand as Pelecanos' masterpiece.
Jess Walter, Citizen Vince. A small-time scam artist relocates to Spokane under the Witness Protection Plan, and can't figure out who he is; the 1980 Presidential election gives him questions to ask that will help him define his new self, if his old associates let him live that long. Citizen Vince is another book that uses the structure of the crime novel to say big things about identity and the political process.
Today I'm taking the bus to Boston, despite the snow we're expecting. If any brave souls make it out to Kate's tonight, I'll see you there.
Update 10:00 a.m....
All right, so much for my bravado. Three people at Hannaford this morning told me I was nuts to think about driving down to Portland in this, much less to Boston. "First storm of the season, everybody gets a little crazy," said the man who bagged my groceries. "It snowed over Thanksgiving," I protested. "Ayuh," he said, "but that was soft. That wasn't a storm. This is a storm."
If it eases up between now and, say, 2:00 this afternoon, I might reconsider, but for now I'm staying in. Dang it. As I said to Jen, there are worse fates than being snowed in with a tin of gingerbread cookies... but not for them. BWAAA ha ha ha ha ha...