“What fictional book has challenged your thinking and touched your life in some way?” That was one of the questions we explored recently in a Literature class. Other questions included, “What character in literature do you identify with and why?”
Literature or story and the characters and ideas that it portrays is very powerful. Powerful literature works its way into our hearts and minds. Characters and situations become so real to us that it is hard to put the book down because we still want to be involved in this person’s life. Sometimes the novel ends so abruptly that we are confronted with a sense of loss. I am still waiting in frustration for Jasper Fforde’s second book in his series “Shades of Grey” (No! Not 50 shades!). Eddie Russet has been left in limbo for many years.
Scout in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has forever made me more alert to the ways in which young people perceive the world. One student commented that Holden Caulfield’s struggle to accept adulthood is one with which he identifies. Steinbeck was a master at portraying the outcast and misfit. Once introduced to Lennie and George in “Of Mice and Men” we can never look at the people on the fringes of our society the same way again. Good literature confronts us and makes us sit up. We may agree or disagree with the author but at least he or she has made us take notice.
Arthur Miller’s exploration of the ‘American dream’ in his play “Death of a Salesman” discomforts us all as we reconsider our hopes, ambitions, failures and successes, and causes us to reflect on the stories we tell ourselves to justify our existence and legacy. Franz Kafka’s stories written nearly 100 years ago are an ominous omen of the confusion and lack of focus and direction our societies find themselves in today. I certainly feel like a confused “K” at times as I try to understand the world around me.
Is there a work of literature that will forever be with you? It may be one that you return to time and again. I’d love to hear about it.
I am a sucker for old books. No, not the dog-eared silver fish nibbled paperback that you had to read for High School English but old books – books that have an odour acquired over the years, solid covers – often leather-bound and a history that can be traced well over 100 years. My oldest treasure is a Jonathan Edwards book printed in 1778 or MDCCLXXVIII as it is written on the Title Page.
Finding a home for EB9
Some people rescue stray animals, my weakness is stray books. Recently I acquired a 9-10th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica plus Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and Scotland Illustrated. All up, it means I have to find over 3 metres of heavy duty book shelf space on my over-full book shelves or a family member with the same sensitvity and compassion. The added problem is that I already have a 9th edition of the Britannica.
You may consider me greedy or just plain loopy but the problem is that these books have a lineage and pedigree that needs to be preserved.
The 9th edition of the EB comes from a time when scholarship was taken seriously. It wasn’t the democratic hodge-podge of Wikipedia but a collection of the most renowned thinking of the era. Mind you, as with all learning it has to be read with discretion. Julius Welhausen may have been a great classical scholar but I still don’t have to agree with his article on Israel. It reflects a time when science and engineering inspired enthusiasm and excitement. The car, planes and the space race were still to come but the possibility was in the wind.
When a book was printed it was an event – it made a statement. In the C16th a person could be put to death for having a copy of Tyndale’s New Testament in their possession. Now we can buy books by the kilo and recycle them as soon as we are done with them. Some of us have transitioned away from books altogether and swan about imperiously with our loaded Kindles.
I was once asked what heaven would be like. I answered, “The biggest and most comprehensive library ever!” The closest I got to heaven on earth was my visit to the British Library in London a few years ago. Its collection of old treasures is amazing. A few years ago it purchased St Cuthbert’s Gospel which came from the C7th. Now, that is old!
Wait, a phone call has come in. A stray volume has been discovered wandering and alone. I must go and rescue it.