To Savor or Devour?

My, how time flies!

Nearly two years ago, I planted this link in the comment section of one my earliest posts with the intention of returning to it as an impetus for discussion with fellow book lovers.  From Aeon, a thoughtful piece on the history of the metaphors comparing reading to eating, titled Is ‘devouring’ books a sign of superficiality in a reader?:

The language of eating is often used to describe reading habits. If pressed for an explanation, one might say that to ‘devour’ books is to do something positive.

It implies intense appreciation on behalf of the reader, and suggests that books in themselves are enjoyable and delicious, like warm pastries.

This metaphor, however, hasn’t always seemed so benign. Two hundred years ago, describing someone as ‘devouring’ a book would have been an act of moral censure.

Indeed, before I discovered this short history lesson, I would have stated unequivocally that devouring a book is a positive thing. Of course, that was my off the cuff response, one offered without much forethought. As I have further considered the implications of devouring a book, I realize that some texts are to be savored rather than devoured in the same way as some foods are to be savored rather than devoured.

For instance yesterday, I splurged for Sunday dinner, bought a duck and prepared this recipe. It was definitely a dish to be savored, one where appreciating the layers of flavors and textures was warranted. It was not only good, but decadent. To eat it in a rush would be to diminish the effort, not to mention the expense, that I put into preparing it.

One of my other favorite meats is bacon. I fry it up at least 3 days a week, but I am often hastening to fulfill all of my morning duties which begin most days before 5:30. Breakfast is sometimes reduced to snatching up a couple of pieces of bacon as I pass the plate in the kitchen and sip my constantly reheated morning cup of Joe. The bacon, as much as I enjoy it, is usually devoured rather than savored. The bacon is, for all intents and purposes, common.

Common things can be wonderful, but we don’t treat them the way we would things we only enjoy on rare occasions, and the same can be said of the ideas and content we encounter in books. I was able to devour Their Eyes Were Watching God as an adult in part because I was re-reading it. Also, regardless of the fact that it was written by an author I have deep affection for, it was still fiction. Fiction can offer big ideas worthy of contemplation and reflection and often does, but I can safely ‘devour’ most of it.

The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of ‘devouring’ idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished.

For millennia, reading’s connection to eating has reflected its centrality to social power and responsibility. Some of the oldest reading images have their roots in the Bible: Ezekiel and John, for instance, literally eat manuscripts during divine visions, representing their role as revelatory agents. This idea of the reader as a mediator of knowledge has had longstanding cultural resonance.

Readers are only impoverished to the extent that we don’t appropriately process what we are reading. The references to Biblical prophets and prophecies is an apt one. Few would disagree with the sentiment that when reading sacred texts or tomes based on the values and implications of our sacred texts, savoring is definitely the right approach. When we are hiding truths in our hearts, we need to examine them carefully.

In contrast to the voracious and relatively quick pace at which I read Watching, I was far more deliberate, contemplative, and meditative while reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. These were ideas and words to be savored because there were, within those pages, eternal truths which I want to carry with me as long as I live. The Aeon piece touches on this distinction:

Renaissance reader-scholars developed a conviction that not all reading was equal. While their eating imagery sometimes distinguished between kinds of books (as in Francis Bacon’s adage that ‘[s]ome books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed’), first and foremost it distinguished between different kinds of readers. The ancient conception of the social significance of reading now found expression as the ethical obligation to respond well to texts.

Ultimately, this is where I fall on the question of devouring books. It’s not always a bad thing, but neither is it always a good thing. It depends on what we are reading and why. The Aeon piece goes a little bit further. Take the time and finish it if you can. It’s not very long.

What is your general approach to reading and books? Devour, Savor, or both?

 

One Beautiful Dream

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by [Fulwiler, Jennifer]

One Beautiful Dream: The rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both, by Jennifer Fulwiler. Published May 2018. 240 pages.

As I got into this book then did a bit of digging, I realized that its author, Jennifer Fulwiler, is something of a Catholic Internet celebrity and as such, hardly as anonymous to the Catholic faithful as she was to me. I only heard of her because a paleo food blogger I happen to follow on Instagram heartily endorsed the book.

One Beautiful Dream is best characterized as a memoir chronicling Fulwiler’s journey as a mother of six very closely spaced children alongside the pursuit of her dream to make it as a writer. A dream which I hasten to interject, was heartily encouraged by her husband, who repeatedly implored her not to give it up. I instantly liked this woman. She has a wicked sense of humor and a way of expressing it that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that I am a slow reader. Nevertheless, I finished this book in two days. This was partly because the conversational tone makes it easy to read, and partly because rather than do my usual routine of bouncing between books when I have free time, I kept picking this one up, continuing to read it until the end. I found myself invested in seeing how Jennifer’s story would end even as I was turning the pages of its culmination.

There’s another, deeper reason that this book resonated with me, and it was that I appreciated this woman’s gut wrenching wrestling match between pursuing her passion and trying to be a good wife and mother, a juggling act she admittedly bungled more often than not. She often wavered, wondering whether it was fair to her kids or right for a mother to devote large amounts of time and energy to such endeavors.

That was, until she realized with the help of a wise priest’s counsel, that her insistence on compartmentalizing the segments of her life rather than cultivating an integrated life of wholeness was the root of her problem. Her life was chaotic (well, even more chaotic than a life with six kids under 10 is prone to be) because she failed to connect everything together. More than that, she needed to trust God that His will would be done in her life on His timetable.

After nearly a decade blogging in and alongside the Christian/biblical womanhood Internet community before finally realizing the folly of formulaic living, this book was for me, a breath of fresh air. Not because I agree with everything Jennifer Fulwiler believes, does and says –I am a raging Protestant after all- but because she hits at the heart of the matter: She did what she did with the full encouragement and enthusiastic coaching of her husband, the cheer-leading of her children and support of her extended family which meant she did exactly what she was supposed to do, regardless of whether it offends the sensibilities of the “this is the way to be the perfect Christian wife” crowd.

Did I mention that she has a wonderful sense of humor? Well she does, and one of my favorite laugh out loud passages is on page 125, because it is one of the best representations of her story telling prowess. It’s the story of what happened when she was given the opportunity to get a break and attend a ladies’ retreat offered by her church. She got more than she bargained for:

In my rush to get away, I had not looked into the details of this weekend before I signed up. And that, it now occurred to me, was a grave error.

In my defense, I had no idea that Catholics even did retreats like this. I had many Evangelical friends (again, “friends” meaning “people I talked to on my computer from the shadowy recesses of my home”) who described events at their churches as riotously fun gatherings where people sung and waved their hands and used the word fellowship as a verb. I had counted on my Catholic brethren to put together an emotionless, entirely cerebral retreat, and now it seems that they had failed me completely. p.125

When all is said and done, this is a good book because the author shared her story in a funny, relatable, truthful way. She didn’t pretend to be perfect or have it all figured out, but she learned and grew in grace along the way. Which is the best any of us can really hope for this side of Heaven.

4 out of 5 stars.

No content advisory necessary.

Blogkeeping notes.

There is a new page on the menu. Those of you who were here reading when I first started writing in this sleepy corner of the web may remember that I had a page devoted to links I’d encountered that I wanted to share. I was saving those links on Delicious, which has since vanished into the ether. I had hoped to find a link sharing site that I enjoyed using as much as I did Delicious, but I never did, so I kissed my hundreds of links good bye 😦 and took down the page.

I decided recently that I would just make a new page and add any interesting links I read there. Some ideas are worth sharing, contemplating, and thinking about. Books are my preferred method since ideas are better fleshed out in them, whether I agree with them or not. But this is the age of the Internet, and the germs of most ideas can be found here as well. Hence the Links Worth a Look page.

I updated the comment policy to more accurately reflect the mood of this site. Namely, I turned off moderation because -hopefully- it’s pretty clear that I don’t need to moderate very heavily here. First time commentators will still go to the moderation process first, but other than that, comments can flow freely. Unless and until but some weird quirk I find that particular change was a mistake.

Just a couple of notes to update my readers of a few small changes on the blog.

Y’all have a great weekend, and try to stay cool, huh?

 

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories.

my man jeeves early stories

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories [with biographical introduction], Kindle Edition, by P.G. Wodehouse.Short story collection contains stories of varied publishing dates between 1912 and 1919.

My familiarity with P.G. Wodehouse is limited and quite recent, after reading Krysta’s review of My Man Jeeves at Pages Unbound. I only realized after starting it that the volume I purchased contains a few stories which don’t include Jeeves -or his boss Bertie Wooster- at all, but were among Wodehouse’s early work featuring the narrator Reggie Pepper.

The basic gist of the stories is that of a young wealthy man living well in the big city. Some stories are set in London, while others are set in New York City. This is a book I turned to specifically in the hope that it would make me laugh. And it did. I actually laughed out loud several times while reading Wodehouse’s short stories featuring the genius valet, the narrator’s “man, Jeeves”.

Our narrator, employer of the titular valet, finds himself endlessly involved in the near constant dramas and dilemmas that befall his male friends. Most of these problems which require a unique solution fall in the categories of money crises and romantic hi jinks. Wodehouse is a master at one liners and while I find Jeeves brilliantly entertaining, the narrator and supporting casts are equally engaging and funny.

The great thing about these books is that because they are short stories, they can be enjoyed in bits and pieces without the pressure of trying to complete the whole book. That’s what I intend to do with the additional volumes I’ve purchased since reading this one. The original My Man Jeeves is available on Kindle right now for free.

I’ll round this one out with some of my favorite lines from the stories (all quotes copied from Goodreads).

From My Man Jeeves:

“…there occurred to me the simple epitaph which, when I am no more, I intend to have inscribed on my tombstone. It was this:
“He was a man who acted from the best motives. There is one born every minute.”
From Right Ho, Jeeves:
“You know how it is with some girls. They seem to take the stuffing right out of you. I mean to say, there is something about their personality that paralyses the vocal cords and reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower.”
From How Right You Are, Jeeves:
“The snag in this business of falling in love, aged relative, is that the parties of the first part so often get mixed up with the wrong parties of the second part, robbed of their cooler judgement by the party of the second part’s glamour. Put it like this: the male sex is divided into rabbits and non-rabbits and the female sex into dashers and dormice, and the trouble is that the male rabbit has a way of getting attracted by the female dasher (who would be fine for the non-rabbit) and realizing too late that he ought to have been concentrating on some mild, gentle dormouse with whom he could settle down peacefully and nibble lettuce.”
From My Man Jeeves:
“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.”
From Leave it to Jeeves, which you can read free online here:
“Oh, Jeeves,’ I said; ‘about that check suit.’
Yes, sir?’
Is it really a frost?’
A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion.’
But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is.’
Doubtless in order to avoid him, sir.’
He’s supposed to be one of the best men in London.’
I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.”
From Carry On, Jeeves:
“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”
These stories are full of pith, humorous one liners tinged with truths about life and human nature. I highly suggest them.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: This is another instance where clean does not equal child friendly. These clean, funny stories are clearly written with an adult audience as the target audience.