Friday, June 10, 2011

On Reading

I began this year with the determination to read some great books. The kind of books, that is, that you remember for the rest of your life, and look back on with great fondness. The kind of book you honor in memory. For example, one of my favorites is How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn. I read it back in early high school, I guess it was, and I don't remember all that much about it, except I do remember how it made me feel. I remember the tears I shed at the end, and there aren't many other books that have made me cry like that.

Another was Mutiny on the Bounty, by Nordhoff and Hall.

So I was hoping to be scrupulous about looking for that kind of book. Of course you never know for sure, but in truth I have kind of let down my guard and read a lot of merely okay books instead. I can hardly remember a single title, except for Carter Beats the Devil, which was great fun, and Out Stealing Horses, which was almost a great book, I think, but somehow falls just short by being awfully forlorn, in a Nordic way.

I have always loved books that made you aware of the passage of time, the brevity of life and our need to shake ourselves awake to this world during our short stay here. Both 'Valley' and 'Bounty' have that sense about them. Thornton Wilder's Our Town is another. I've seen the play produced numerous times, but I like best just to sit and read it every now and then. It always moves me.

The other development in my reading life this year has been my purchase of an ereader. I'm fine with these gadgets, I think, and will be using it more and more as time passes, I'm sure. But there's no doubt in my mind that something is truly and definitely lost in the setting aside of the book-as-object. Especially big books, which seem to continue in your peripheral vision even when you've put them down, whereas ebooks simply disappear. Even War and Peace is essentially insubstantial as an ebook (I loved War and Peace, by the way).

Most men I know have a rather puritanical attitude about reading. They only read something if they thing they should. If their pastor at church recommends it, for example, or if they think they can learn something important, a "life-lesson," as they say. Most of the guys I know (not the women, mind you) complain about not being able to focus for long, or about the author's unnecessarily large vocabulary. If you show them a book, they immediately note how many pages it is. In other words, most of the men I know, have some sort of deficiency when it comes to reading, but it shames them to admit it. Among Christian men, in my experience, there are few who simply read for pleasure. For them reading is work, not pleasure. Or it's education, or it's some form of personal betterment, but it is never simply joy.

Anyway, to get back to where I began, I'm yearning to read a really good book, a really special book. Perhaps The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, by Alan Jacobs. Or perhaps I'll just re-read How Green Was My Valley, that is if it's available in e-format.


Anonymous said...

i'm going to give "animal vegetable maracle" by barbara kingslover a try.

i haven't read anything by her.
a friend recommended it.

DebD said...

I think I'm always looking for that next really good book. I seem to have to kiss a lot of frogs as they are few and far between. I read "Mutiny on the Bounty" by Hall and Nordhoff a few years ago. Loved it! I heard that "Men Against the Sea" (which is in that trilogy) is also quite good.

Good luck with your search.