Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Reading Life

“Just one more chapter, Mom, please.”
“I don’t know, it is getting kind of late” she said indecisively.
“Pretty please!”  I put all of the wheedle I could into the words, looking at her with mournful, pleading eyes.
“Okay, just one more, but then I really need to start working on supper.”
I relaxed. Settling  back down into the couch, my cheek leaning against my mother’s arm, my eyes following her wonderful mother voice on the page as she started the next chapter.
“Now began the happiest time that Caspian had ever known…”
If, like Peter Pan, I try and find my Happy Thought, I think this memory would be a tight contender. 
In my childhood home, there were books in every room.  If one of my family couldn’t be found, we were probably in a corner, up a tree or in the bathroom deep into a book, and unable to rouse themselves from the world we were currently inhabiting. 
At two minutes from our bedtime you would find my brother and I tearing around the house in the grip of terror.  Fear oozed out of us, as we strode swiftly around the house. (“No running in the house, boys!”)  Brush teeth, wash hands, last sip of water, (“Don’t drink too much or you’ll wet the bed!”), kiss mom goodnight, “Night, I love you, see you in the morning”, then walk quickly around the corner into the kitchen.  By this time our beds were in sight, it was the home stretch, the seconds were ticking down…only a few left, we started to run (“I said no running boys”) and just as the last seconds of sand trickled to the bottom of the hourglass of our bedtime, we would throw back the covers and flop into bed.  Ha HA!  Victory!  If we had not made it in time, even one second past our bedtime, we would have to immediately turn off our light, and in despair lay awake wishing that we had made it.  When we did make it, which was most of the time due to the motivation that we had, we could stay awake as long as we wanted.  You see, Gary and I were, and still are, insatiable bookworms.  During the day, we led fairly uneventful lives, but long into the night, we did everything there was to do between the pages of a book.  Save the fair damsels in distress, slay the dragons and all that.  We were tireless until the book was done or 2am, whichever came first.
In the mornings, if there was no pressing obligation, I would sleepily turn over in bed, and remember where I had left off in the story I was reading.  I would feel around for the book, sometimes crumpled up under me. Having fought sleep the night before, trying to get to a stopping place in the story, which never comes in a good book until the end, if then. I would lay progressively flatter in bed, finally completely prone, with my head turned sideways on the pillow, my thumb propping the book open, suddenly waking back up to read a few more lines, only to drop off to sleep again.  In that state, the book would often be eased off the bed by my restless sleeping arm, to drop loudly to the floor.  Sometimes this would wake me enough to rouse me to read a few more pages, but sometimes I would only open my eyes, see that the light was still on, and close my eyes again until morning. I wonder how much electricity was wasted by this tradition.
Daytime meant snatches of the story read while on the toilet, “David, are you reading on the toilet?”
“Ummm.  Kind of.”
“You have work to do.”
Snatches of stories read while reading in the back seat of the car while fighting off motion sickness. “David, you always get sick when you read in the car.  Are you sure you want to read right now?
“Ummm. What? Oh, yeah, I think I’ll be okay this time.”
Sneaking off on a lazy Saturday afternoon to climb up into the tall spreading tree in our yard with a blue Hardy Boy mystery tucked into my beltline. I would lodge myself in the crotch of a big branch to read blissfully until I heard “David, where are you?” drifting from our back door.
It was rather glorious to be sick.  Not stomach sick, because nothing could make that better, but sick with a low-grade cold.  Enough to keep me home from school, but not enough to make me miserable.  That meant a whole golden day lying tucked into our hideously green couch with a book.  Sweet, indulgent luxury.  Hours of silence, with the homey sounds of my mother cleaning and cooking, and occasionally bringing me mugs of hot tea, or something else motherly. 

At dinner time around our kitchen table, you would have heard this, “David…David…David! Would you please pass the tuna casserole?  David?  Gary…GaryGARY!! TELL DAVID TO PASS THE CASSEROLE!” 

Me, looking up from my book, “Oh, sorry Mom, were you talking to me?” 

Eventually mom put an end to the tradition of general table time reading.  We weren’t having “family time.”  At the time, I thought it was an outrage only a few notches below Nero’s persecution of the Christians.

Now I am married.  Working.  And there is a not a lot of extra time.  I have had, out of necessity, to institute reading out loud to my wife.  And my brothers wife, I have heard, wakes up occasionally in the wee hours of the morning and finds my brother, like the bibliophile that he is, reading a good book while sitting (I am not making this up) on the toilet.  Man does not live by bread alone, but by every good book that he can lay his hands on. 

This is a truth universally accepted. 

I still have the same drive to read as I did when I was a boy, but I just don’t have the time.  My love finds a way to express itself in the form of buying books.  Book shelves are now my universal answer for any interior decorating situation.  “A book shelf might look good there.”  An empty surface is a book laying opportunity.  Baskets of books and magazines tucked here and there.  A new shelving unit in the bathroom…one shelf dedicated to a tasteful selection of books.  An office is just an opportunity for many more bookshelves. 

I also express my need by actually reading, but unfortunately the snatches of time that I can find don’t match the size of the desire, so I usually end up having 12 books that I am currently reading, but never finishing.  Only to start a new book that seems interesting. 

One recent triumph was actually finishing a book called “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” about the history and decay of punctuation.  This was my “Bathroom Book” for almost a year.  A few pages once or twice a day add up over time, and being in the bathroom is a regular experience for me.  Sorry about that, I don’t usually do punny things like that, because I don’t really think they are punny…I mean funny.

I am hopeful that I will live to be old enough to once again have the luxury of time to read, and finish all these books that I am starting in my middle age.  I may have to plan a mid-life crisis and become a writer, or something.

What is the name for the realization that you aren’t going to be able to read all the books that you want to before you die?

I have one glorious reading related dream still in front of me.  Reading all my favorite books to my children.  Introducing them to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.  To Dirk and Al.  To Almonzo and Laura.  Grandma Doudle. Harry, Hermione and Ron.

I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Location of Disagreement

Alan Jacobs, on his tumblog, posted these thoughts that tie in to something that I think about often.
Watching a Twitter conversation unfold today, I was reminded for the hundredth time that debates about same-sex marriage tend to be so fruitless because SSM doesn’t really mark the point of disagreement. There are already preceding disagreements about what marriage itself is and is for, but even those are not foundational. People disagree about all these things because they disagree about what human flourishing (eudaimonia) is, about what kind of life is generally speaking best for human beings to live.
So, it is not the SSM part of that comment that I think about often, it is the "where is the locus of disagreement" part of it that is fascinating to me, but even more interesting than the fact of the disagreement at deeper levels is the "why?" of that fact.  How do we come to disagree at those points?  How do we come to the conclusions, often tacit and even unconscious to our own understanding, that we hold so strongly.  Strongly enough to make major life decisions upon them and even (historically) come to verbal or physical blows with others over.  

"How do we come to our own epistemology heurmenuetic?" is one of the most interesting questions I have ever come across and wrestled with. 

Citation: Jacobs, Alan at <> Accessed 3/2/13.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Alan Jacobs, once again, ROCKS!

Alan Jacobs is one of my favorite thinkers and writers.  His essays (on such diverse topics as Harry Potter, the editing of children's bibles, and commentary on the poetry of W.H. Auden, to name just a tiny fraction of his scope) have stimulated my thinking as much as almost anyone else's writing I can think of. (Okay, I am going to bring him into that list after Lewis, Ken Myers and Tim Keller.  Something like that.) His book on the bio of Lewis was incredibly stimulating.  Of course, the bio was on Lewis, so it would be hard to not be mentally stimulating with that material, but his writing is just darn well put together.

I have followed his blogging essays and reposts for a few years now, and again: challenging, formidable, refreshing.  His refusal to accept too-simple responses to things that may seem simple but are actually more complex than they seem has been uncomfortably confrontational to my own way of thinking, which typically is satisfied with a good-enough answer that doesn't, in the end, take into account all the facts.

So, when I read on his tumblog a series of questions he was asking about a variety of Christian responses to the onset of World War II, my pulse quickened.  He didn't give any answers.  Just a set of questions.  By the time I was done reading his comments and questions, I was wishing I had the time to research the answers.  THEN he said he was writing a book to attempt to address those very questions.

*******The (interior) crowd goes wild******

I am excited about his upcoming book.  Have to wait until 2015 is the downside.  Dang.  Three Cheers for AJ.

You can find the blog post I am referring to here: <>. Accessed 3/18/13.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why I like Alan Jacobs' way of thinking about things

Alan Jacob's thinking and writing often refreshes me. He ably rejects generalization in favor of a deeper look at specifics in a way that is instructive.  Here is just one example.
"I would say that all our experience is indeed mediated, but mediated in a wide range of ways. Perception itself, neural activity itself, is a mediating activity. I often think of this passage from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
Peeping through my keyhole I see within the range of only about thirty percent of the light that comes from the sun; the rest is infrared and some little ultraviolet, perfectly apparent to many animals, but invisible to me. A nightmare network of ganglia, charged and firing without my knowledge, cuts and splices what I do see, editing it for my brain. Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain: “This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it is.”
So we really don’t have a choice between mediated and unmediated experience. The choices are always among various forms of mediation. I don’t think Heidegger fully realized this, which is why he could speak of writing with a pen as something you do with your hand but typewriting as something alienated from the hand — never acknowledging that we type with our hands too.
Now, if someone wants to argue that the mediation of the pen involves our body in more intimate ways than the mediation of the typewriter, in that (for instance) in writing with a pen we shape the individual letters instead of just striking keys with a uniform motion, I’m ready to listen — as long as it’s okay to point out that writing with my finger on an iPad screen is more intimate still!
Analogically, consider Walker Percy’s great essay “The Loss of the Creature,” in which he points out that our cultural formation makes it impossible for anyone actually to see the Grand Canyon: only some immense dislocation of our expectations can make is truly visible to us. It is at least possible that some technological mediations could help us achieve that valuable dislocation.
In short, we need fewer binary distinctions and more attention to the detailed phenomenology of particular technologies and their interactions with the mediating powers of our perceptual apparatus."
Citation: a comment Alan Jacobs made at this site, <> accessed 3/9/13.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

W. H. Auden's insight into my problems

I am afraid that I have succumbed to the temptation that W.H. Auden suggests here is the consequence of easily accessible books.  I primarily blame The Friends of the Library Bookstore for this, due to their incredibly cheap books and convenient location.

“We are all of us tempted to read more books, look at more pictures, listen to more music than we can possibly absorb, and the result of such gluttony is not a cultured mind but a consuming one; what it reads, looks at, listens to is immediately forgotten, leaving no more traces behind than yesterday’s newspaper.”

Citation: < Accessed 3/7/13> from W. H. Auden, Secondary Worlds (1967).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Brass-Tacks Repentance with C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis posted this helpful comment in a letter to a fretful soul.  Clarifying.

"(1) Remember what St John said 'If our heart condemn us, God is stronger than our heart.' The feeling of being, or not being, forgiven & loved, is not what matters. One must come down to brass tacks. If there is a particular sin on your conscience, repent & confess it. If there isn't, tell the despondent devil not to be silly. You can't help hearing his voice (the odious inner radio) but you must treat it merely like a buzzing in your ear or any other irrational nuisance. 
(2) Remember the story in the Imitation, how the Christ on the crucifix suddenly spoke to the monk who was so anxious about his salvation and said 'If you knew that all was well, what wd. you, today, do, or stop doing?' When you have found the answer, do it or stop doing it. You see, one must always get back to the practical and definite. What the devil loves is that vague cloud of unspecified guilt feeling or unspecified virtue by which he lures us into despair or presumption. 'Details, please' is the answer.--"

Citation: The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy(Cambridge University Press, 2007), 962