Friday, July 24, 2009

C.S. Lewis on Literature

What makes an ordinary book different from a classic? Here is one reason given by C.S. Lewis:

In the first place, the majority [of readers] never read anything twice. The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers "I've already read it" to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. We have all known women who remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand for half an hour in the library skimming through it before they were certain they had once read it. But the moment they became certain, they rejected it immediately. It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday's paper; they had already used it. Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life. (p. 2 from An Experiment in Criticism)

The only books I have read multiple times (more than three) are Jane Eyre, the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress, Persuasion and The Warden. What about you? What are you favorite re-reads?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

I'm glad I was forewarned by other book bloggers that Hardy's books could be dark. As I began reading The Return of the Native there was an immediate sense of impending doom that made me want to put the book down. But I've been wanting to read Hardy for years so I forged ahead.

Eustacia Vye is a beautiful, city-bred Englishwoman who is forced by circumstances to move to the remote country village of Egdon Heath. As she withers away there she imagines her only salvation to be a passionate love affair. She is well aware that the state of being in love is more important to her than the actual object of her affection. Practically any man will do!

"Fidelity in love for fidelity's sake had less attraction for her than for most women: fidelity because of love's grip had much. A blaze of love, and extinction, was better than a lantern glimmer of the same which should last long years... To her love was but a doleful joy. Yet she desired it, as one in a desert would be thankful for brackish water." (p. 62)

Her decisions, based on passionate impulses rather than purity of heart, wreak havoc for all the other characters in the book. The "native" of the title is Clem Yeobright, a young man who returns home after several years in Paris. Eustacia sees him as the solution to her miserable existence and "falls in love" even before meeting him.

Hardy shines in describing people and places, but his prose become dense when he is philosophizing. Certain paragraphs have to be read and re-read before the light of their meaning begins to dawn. Nevertheless, he's worth the effort. Although the predominant mood in Native is gloomy, I am very, very glad I read it. There is a vitality in Hardy's writing that is deeply satisfying. I was also pleased with the mildly happy ending in which several long-suffering characters are rewarded for their constancy and faithfulness.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is Reading Uncool?

The last place I expected to find great writing was on an airline flight magazine. But I recently spent a couple of pleasant hours browsing through the June issue of United’s “Hemisphere”. Adam Sachs wrote an article called “The Page Turner” in which he tries to explain the benefits of owning a Kindle to a fellow passenger.

“It’s for reading,” I say… It’s got books on it,” I add brightly, now tapping the tablet stupidly. Thousands of books inside.” Then I sort of wave the device in the air, as if to prove how light and portable it is and say hey, look at me, I’m reading.

“Oh…books,” she says, straightening her back. She’s got an iPhone in her hand, and I imagine she’s ready to Google map her way to a better conversation…. Because here’s the thing: Reading is not sexy… The electronic reader might be the first truly ingenious, paradigm-shifting piece of
technology that actually makes you feel less cool than you were without it.

The Kindle is sort of homely and straitlaced, and that’s what I like about it. It’s uncool in a cool way. Just like reading.

- written by travel and food writer, Adam Sachs, used with permission -

(Of course, when I wrote this back in 2009 Kindle's were sort of simple with their black cases and gray screens and ability to archive hundreds of books. Now, as I add this footnote in 2014, the Kindle Fire is anything but homely and straitlaced.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Losing Control and Liking It: How to Set Your Teen (and Yourself) Free

Tim Sanford’s book, Losing Control and Liking It,  is written for a very small audience: parents of older teens who are having a hard time letting them go. I did not need this book when our first son left home because he was confident and happy and had the life skills to “make it”. But my second son is his polar opposite. The thought of letting him go out into the real world was giving me the heebie jeebies UNTIL I read this little book.

When we home schooled years ago I read many books that implied that with the right tools I could turn out children who were “practically perfect in every way”. Well, guess what? We did everything the books said and our kids still disappoint us at times (and we still love them when they do.) But what a relief to read Sanford’s book which states that my job as a parent is not to turn out perfect kids who make perfect choices. In fact, Sanford writes that a parent’s main job is to (1) validate and (2) nurture his children. By giving the child a firm foundation of knowing he is noticed, loved and enjoyed, the parent can teach (by words or modeling) how to make wise choices. As a child grows into an adult the parent should be making less and less decisions for him. If he’s done his job of nurturing, validating and teaching, he is able to release the reins of parental control. “Your teen is moving away from your hands-on guidance to your hands-off availability.” (p.38) Sanford says that although we can no longer control the actions of our young adults, we can continue to influence them.

When you influence, all your persuading and inspiring still allows the other person to make the final choice. That person keeps control and is responsible for his or her actions, thoughts and feelings”. (p. 91)

This book came at a crucial time in my life. I didn’t realize I was having control issues. I thought I just wanted what was best for my son and that he was unable to decide that for himself. Now I see that I really have done my best in the nurturing and validating and teaching areas, and it’s up to him to make his own life decisions. I can honestly say I have let go of the controls. But I’m still adjusting! This is not a profound book in the sense that it will nourish you with multiple readings, BUT it’s intensely practical and comforting. If you’ve got teens, give it a try.