The Case for Re-reading

My nature isn’t inclined toward re-reading books. The primary reason for this is that there are so many books I want to read but haven’t read. Re-reading one book necessarily means not reading one of the literal thousands of books in my “must-read” queue. It is still an occasional struggle for me, but I’ve gradually overcome my resistance to re-reading books, and here are a few reasons why:

~ We grow and mature over time. The most rewarding re-reading I have ever experienced has been in the context of revisiting a book that I first read -or more likely- was assigned in high school. There was such a difference in mentality and experience even between my teenage years and when I became a wife and mother, which in my case was only a few short years later. You don’t really get things such as the sacrificial nature of love, parenthood, and friendship until they put real demands on you. When they do, you can better appreciate the struggles of protagonists in literature.

~ Our knowledge of issues and languages changes over time. Simply by virtue of growing older, which we forget is a literal best-case scenario, our exposure to more ideas, new environments, and even expanded vocabularies makes it easier for us to grasp concepts that were foreign to us when we are very young or have been relatively sheltered. I confess that I have not yet been able to read Moby Dick in its entirety, and don’t know if I ever will, but I know for sure that these sentiments are lost on a high school student:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;

Only a world-weary adult begins to touch upon a realization of what it means to experience a damp, drizzly November in one’s soul. This is true for any number of classic books that are most impactful only when we are old enough to *get it*. None of this is to imply that these books should not be read or assigned in school. Many of them should (albeit not Moby Dick!). This is simply a case for re-reading them later rather than writing them off because we weren’t psychically formed enough to appreciate them upon first reading.

~ The opportunity to process and analyze ideas in nonfiction is easier on the second -or third!- reading. Reading through a biased lens is as natural as breathing. After all, each of us is the sum total of our experience, and our experiences often form our thoughts. On more than one occasion, however, I’ve judged a book harshly, only to re-read it and see some merit in it. I’ve also really liked a book at one stage of life, and then wondered what on earth I was thinking after reading in another stage. I once read that nothing helps a person discover their conservative side so quickly as when they become parents, and I think a variation of that theme can apply to any number of perspectives.

Those are just a few of the reasons that I have had to tamp down my impatient quest to check off my literary bucket list. For one thing, it is was never likely that I would finish the list before kicking the bucket. For another, the literary life is about feasting on ideas and digesting the beauty, truth, wisdom, and artistry as communicated through what we read.

As much as it might satisfy me to be able to check off 100 books read by year’s end, and I have always loved a good checklist, that’s not really why I read, nor why I love books.

 

 

 

Friday Fave: Quotable Literary Quote

It occurred to me quite recently, after my post in memory of Roger Scruton, that while I have watched his documentary on beauty a couple of times, and read many of his online essays, I’d never actually taken the time to read one of his books. I took some time this week to do so. A review of Culture Counts is forthcoming at my earliest convenience, but for now, I thought this quote was profoundly true:

It is sometimes said that we now live in a “knowledge economy,” and that “information technology” has vastly increased the extent and accessibility of human knowledge. Both claims are false. “Information technology” simply means the use of digital algorithms in the transference of messages. The “information” that is processed is not information about anything, nor does it have its equivalent in knowledge. It treats truth and falsehood, reality and fantasy, as equivalent, and has no means to assess the difference. Indeed, as the Internet reveals, information technology is far more effective in propagating ignorance than in advancing science. For, in the conquest of cyberspace, ignorance has a flying start, being adapted to the habits of idle minds.

There’s a lot to be said about this (and I hope you’ll share your thoughts!), but the biggest takeaway for me is that we have erred greatly by conflating information and knowledge as if they are synonymous. We are much poorer for it, in my opinion.

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Princess Bride Edition Redux

 

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Courtesy of Rod Dreher, we get to observe (and lament, depending on your perspective)  further evidence that even amongst the educated, literacy is reduced to a combination of functional enough to get by and near-constant wrangling to avoid offenses, real or perceived, at all costs. Before we explore the specific word in question it’s necessary to offer a bit of context from the story Dreher published. From a concerned member of the Oregon Confederation of School Administrators:

Dear COSA members,

A little over a year ago, I received an email from one of our aspiring administrators, Alesia Valdez. She asked a simple question: “Has the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators ever thought about changing the name of the organization?”

Alesia pointed out that the words “confederation” and “confederate” have historically racist associations, and wondered if it was time for COSA to update its name – to move away from a name that many would consider “outdated, offensive or racist,” and instead toward a name that would better represent the values that COSA and our members hold around “equity, diversity, inclusion and culturally-responsive practices.”

I contacted Alesia and let her know two things – first, that I appreciated her request and that I was taking it seriously, and, second, that a name change would require amending our Constitution and Bylaws through a process that would include consultation and engagement with the COSA Board of Directors and all COSA members.

After I received Alesia’s email, I sought out a number of the leaders of color in our organization to get their perspectives. Many told me that the “Confederation” in our organization’s name had been a barrier to their participation in our association and that they agreed the name should be changed.

I took Alesia’s request to the next meetings of the COSA Board of Directors and the COSA Equity Advisory Board, and together we developed a process for considering Constitution and Bylaws amendments to change the name of the organization.

In September, the COSA Board appointed a bylaws review committee and tasked them with bringing any draft amendments to the COSA Board meeting in December. The committee took a holistic view and recommended language that will strengthen and modernize our governing documents while also better reflecting the work that we do as an organization. The Board considered the draft amendments and voted unanimously to move them forward in the process. In addition to changing the “C” in COSA to “Coalition,” these amendments also include technical updates to reflect more current practice, such as updated anti-discrimination language. New additions also include specifically naming the COSA Equity Advisory Board as an official COSA committee with representation on the COSA Board of Directors, and new language acknowledging that students are at the center of our members’ work.

Sigh.  This brings us to our word of the week, confederation, which has absolutely nothing to do with the former Confederate States of America, racism, slavery, or the Civil War. In fact, the original 13 U.S. colonies ratified their union using a document known as the Articles of Confederation, long before the civil unrest of the 1860s. Why? Because this is the actual definition of the word confederation:

Confederation, n. : 1. a league or alliance for mutual support, 2. a group of confederates, especially of states more or less permanently united for common purposes.

Clearly, a cursory glance at a contemporary online dictionary supports reality. Namely, that the word confederation is far from offensive, controversial, or racist. However, we’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole since everyone has “woke up” that reason and appreciation for the rich complexity of language has given way to a jittery hair-trigger reaction to just about everything.

I’m halfway tempted to start calling every tightwad and stingy person I know a niggard, just to be controversial.

I won’t, and I’m black anyway, so spare me the outrage.

I just get a little weary with the degradation of language and the politicization of every facet of life. I think we all need a nice long walk on the beach at sunrise; for a modicum of perspective about how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Princess and the Goblin

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The Princess and the Goblin, kindle edition, by George MacDonald. Published in 1872. 134 print pages.

This book is available to read for free at Project Gutenberg.

I have never been a huge fan of fantasy novels. I’ve read two of the Narnia books, and one of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings installments. Despite their renown, the genre has never held enough appeal with me to inspire a desire to read more. It’s more about my personality than the books themselves, however, and I recognize this. So when my daughters were assigned George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin as part of their British literature study this semester, I saw a perfect opportunity for me to revisit the genre in a non-threatening way. By non-threatening I mean that this is a relatively quick read.

I’m very glad I decided to read it along with them, as it is quite a delightful story. So much so, that I am giving serious consideration to which of Macdonald’s books I want to read next. I’ll try to offer a brief overview without giving away too much of the plot.

Princess Irene lives in her father’s castle under the strict supervision of her nurse, Lootie. Lootie is to keep a watchful eye on Irene and take care to govern her under specific guidelines. Chief among them is that they are never to play outside after dark. What Lootie knows but Irene doesn’t, is that underground, below their kingdom, is another kingdom. It’s a kingdom of goblins who only come out at night, and they love to terrorize the “sun people” should they happen upon them.

Of course, Irene and Lootie inevitably find themselves outside on the wrong side of the sunset, but they are rescued and kept safe by Curdie, a brave young miner boy who is not afraid of the nocturnal, lurking goblins. He knows they’re weakness, and is adept at wielding the knowledge he possesses. During his brave nighttime exploration, he finds out the goblins are hatching a plot, that Princess Irene is at its center, and that he must warn the kingdom so that it can be thwarted. What Curdie doesn’t know is that Irene is under the protection of a powerful entity who can shield her from all of the nefarious happenings taking place in and around the kingdom.

This is a fast-paced story that simultaneously demands that the reader take the time to see the vivid imagery and overlapping activity taking place among the characters. It’s a children’s book, but a smartly written one. I found myself eagerly wondering what would happen from one chapter to the next. It’s a great read.

5 out of 5 stars.

I Need a New Butt

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I Need a New Butt by Dawn McMillan. Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird. Originally published in 2012. 32 Pages. Official summary, from Goodreads:

A young boy suddenly notices a big problem — his butt has a huge crack! So he sets off to find a new one. Will he choose an armor-plated butt? A rocket butt? A robot butt? Find out in this quirky tale of a tail, which features hilarious rhymes and delightful illustrations. Children and parents will love this book — no ifs, ands, or butts about it!

This is as much a rant about low-quality children’s literature as it is a book review.  Our local grocery store has a small section with various books available for sale. To their credit, there is as much inspirational reading as there are new and popular novels, children’s books, and reading about health. Recently, I noticed this book and thought how silly it looked, but my husband and I stood there and read it nonetheless.

He, being something of a kid at heart, found the first couple of pages funny in the way he might have when he was a kid. Boys and their bathroom humor! However, as it went on, it was increasingly clear to both of us that this was a terrible book, by almost any objective standard.

By way of disclosure, I can be something of a literary snob when it comes to children’s, fictional and humorous literature. My mind is open when reading nonfiction in a way that it simply is not when reading novels and children’s literature. Fiction should have some redeeming value and a children’s book should do more than making a child chuckle. It should certainly do that, but with some sophistication of thought, and “I need a new butt because mine has a crack!” doesn’t pass muster.

The interesting thing about this book, and its sequel, is how well it was received on Goodreads. It is possible that I overestimated the literary tastes of the Goodreads community!

To make myself clear, I’m not against silliness in children’s literature. I loved reading both Dr. Suess and even Sandra Boynton to my kids when they were very young. It could be that the whole idea of a book resting on the humor of one’s butt crack rubs me the wrong way 🙂 , but I look at this book and its runaway success as just another example of the coarsening of our culture. Here is the question of the day:

Is there a place for this kind of thing in children’s literature? Or am I overreacting here?

2 out of 5 stars

Word Nerd Wednesday: Gentrification

Lest you fear I am insulting your intelligence, dear readers, let me explain myself. I  know that we all know, by now, what the word gentrification means. It’s become a household term over the past 10 years. On the off chance that there is someone reading who isn’t quite sure what the word means, let’s start this discussion with a definition:

gentrification, noun: The process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier usually poorer residents.

This post isn’t about my thoughts on the subject of gentrification. To begin to try and untangle my overlapping and complex perspectives on the subject is not in keeping with the spirit of Word Nerd Wednesday. The reason I have chosen this particular term is two-fold. The first is that the first time I heard it (nearly a decade ago now), I assumed it had something to do with geriatrics. In retrospect, I can see how silly an assumption that was, but it was what I’d assumed. I still have to do something of a mental reset when I hear it, which is why it fascinated me enough to look into its etymology, and that is why I chose gentrification for this week’s Word Nerd Wednesday installment.

According to etymology online, the word gentrification has no etymology to speak of. The sum total of the entry is that the word was recorded as being first used in 1972.  It also says that early 19th Century persons are recorded with first having used the word gentrify, although no context is provided. When I looked up the etymology of the word gentrify, I got kicked back to gentrification.

The mysterious arrival and ubiquitous usage of a word with no etymological history of note fascinates me. It leaves me wondering how many other words in our lexicon, past or present, are unable to be traced back to the Romance languages from which most English words are derived.

Just a thought.

 

 

 

 

How to Be Happy Though Married

I was in Barnes and Noble this morning to pick up Mile Rowe’s The Way I Heard It for 50% off the sticker price. On my way to the cash register, I stopped at the bargain books table and found an interesting little volume for $2.99:

how to be happy though married

It’s a book of quotes taken from everyone from Aristotle to Ovid to Einstein about the pleasures and pains of married life. The artwork -including sketches, paintings, and photographs- add to the humor and thoughtfulness of the quotes. It was a fun way to spend my lunch break. I was able to read through the entire thing in about 30 minutes. Here are some of the quotes from different sections within the book.

Section I: The Pleasures of Marriage

Marriage may often be a stormy lake, but celibacy is almost always a muddy horse-pond.~Thomas Love Peacock, Mellincourt, 1817

There were several quotes in this section that made me audibly chuckle, such as this one:

Five or six years of married life will often reduce a naturally irascible man to so angelic a condition that it would hardly be safe to trust him with a pair of wings ~ How to be Happy Though Married, 1895

My experience differs, but who wants a marriage to an angel, anyway? A saint? Sure! An angel, not so much. One last quote, and probably my favorite,  from this section:

There is nothing more admirable, than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.~ Homer, The Odyssey, c 8th Century B.C.

Section II: The Pains of Marriage

By all means, marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. ~ Socrates, 4th Century B.C.

That made me laugh. Another from the pains of marriage:

Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911.

Huh. Interesting book title, no? I suspect a lot of people probably agree with him. Of course, this is what happens when we forget that marriage, not courtship, is where love really blossoms.

Of all the actions of a man’s life, his marriage doth least concern other people; yet of all actions of our life, it is the most meddled with by other people. ~ John Selden, English Scholar (1584-1654)

Section III: Hints for Husbands

This first one is a riff on the barefoot and pregnant trope, I suppose:

According to the old custom, Egyptian women did not wear shoes; this was so that they should spend all day at home. With most women, if you take away their gilded shoes and bracelets and anklets, their purple dresses and their pearls, they too will stay at home. ~ Plutarch, Advice to the Bride and Groom, 1st Century AD.

I don’t agree with that, seeing as all it takes to send me out for a jaunt around the block is a decent pair of sneakers. No gilding, bracelets, or anklets required, but I do appreciate the spirit of the quote.

Remember, if thou marry for beauty, thou bindest thyself all thy life for that which perchance will neither last nor please thee one year; and when thou hast it, it will be to thee of no price at all. ~ Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

The last hint for husbands underscored to me what I have always known to be true; namely that there is nothing new under the sun:

When our Mistriss commands us to do anything, nothing should hinder us from giving a blinde obedience. ~ The Art of Making Love, 1676

Section IV: Hints for Wives

Don’t sit up until he comes home from the club; better be in bed and pretend to be asleep. If you must be awake, seem to be glad he came home early. He will probably think you an idiot; but that’s inevitable anyway. ~ The Isle of Man Times, 1895.

That made me grateful for a man who, most of the time anyway, thinks far more highly of me than is warranted. This next one is interesting:

If our husbands are not what we wish- and very few are in every respect- we should try to help them become so…We are apt to expect too much of manhood even, and hence, instead of a pleasant surprise, experience a sad disappointment. ~ Wedlock, 1874

That’s a bit of a headscratcher, but I really liked this next one, which is needed even more in this era:

Don’t expect life to be all sunshine. Besides, if there are no clouds, you will lose the opportunity of showing your husband what a good chum you can be. ~ Don’ts for Husbands and Wives, 1913.

That this next one was offered towards brides is telling, although it is clearly a unisex admonition:

Don’t imagine that the perfect lover, whether male or female, will come along ready made. If they do, mistrust them, since this shows a certain amount of previous experience. ~How to be A Good Lover, 1936

Last, but certainly not least:

Be not arrogant and answer not back your husband that shall be, nor his words, nor contradict what he saith, above all before other people. Le Menagier de Paris, 1393.

Some husbands actually desire to hear their wife’s perspective, especially when it differs from his. However, I would never contradict mine in front of others unless it was a matter of imminent life and death.

Section V: The Marital Bed

I’ll only offer two from this section. The way some of these chauvinists view sex, I’ll tell you…

A man must hug, and dandle, and kittle, and play a hundred little tricks with his bed-fellow when he is disposed to make that use of her that nature designed her for. ~ The Praise of Folly, 1509.

I’ll wind up the marital bed quotes with this one from the more modern era:

Legend speaks of the face that launched a thousand ships: maybe the one you select wouldn’t even launch a canoe, but don’t let that bother you.~ Looking Toward Marriage, 1944.

I enjoyed this little book. It’s funny, and I’m always up for a good laugh. It’s also interesting to read the perspectives of people who lived outside of the craziness of the postmodern world.

It does make one wonder though: Since there is so much literature out there -besides the Bible even- with practical marital advice from the wisdom of the ages- why are more being printed every day?

4 and 1/2 out of 5 Stars