Friday, July 28, 2006

Books, the Bloodless Substitutes

"Shall a boy fly or shall he read? It seems both fair and possible to say he may fly but he must read. Whatever be the line of work he chooses to follow, he will have spare hours. His contribution to the life of his community and the rounding out of his individual life are dependent very largely on the wise use of these spare hours. Some spare hours may be given to music or the theatre, some to social entertainment, some to outdoor sports, some to church aid work; but some must surely be given to the reading of great books." - Orton Lowe, "Literature for Children"

It was this paragraph on the opening page of the preface that made me have to buy the book, "Literature for Children" published by Macmillan Company in 1914. After all, as an avid reader, how could I not buy this book (thanks North Country Books!)? Granted, my sister Margot the Writer, reads more than I do. She reviews books for 7 Days so she gets paid to read! Hell, even my mom puts back more books than me - but she is retired so she has lots of spare time!! Although I may not match their intense reading staminas, I do find comfort in the pages of a novel when I have down time inbetween editing projects and work.

"Literature for Children" is entertaining because it is essentially defending the act of reading. It is interesting to imagine a time when reading was not an acceptable pastime. A time when it might seem frivilous or silly. It is a book written for teachers with advice as to how they may transform their students into active readers.

"The following pages attempt to get the boy on the right trail, so that when he reaches man's estate he will of his own accord devote a just portion of his spare hours to books of literature. To do this, attention needs to be given to these practices: the learning of a little choice poetry by heart, the learning of a few fairy stories and myths through the ear, the reading and rereading of a few great books, the saving of money to build up a small but well-selected private bookshelf, the practice of reading aloud or by the fireside or in the schoolroom. The chances are that a boy so directed will find reading a pleasure and will turn to what is really worth while. The attempts by parents and teachers to bring about an abiding love for books of power is a most commendable attempt; and, if successful, the best contribution to a refined private life. To all such atempts these pages aim to contribute."

As early as I can remember, my mother has been reading to my sister and I. When I was just a baby, she read us the Dune trilogy. More recently, we took turns reading the entire Harry Potter series out loud. Yes, yes, they may not be amazing literature, but it is a nice way to spend family time in the summer. I can't bother to read those books myself because they sound so much better when my mother is reading them out loud. There is something about the tone of her voice that brings back ancient childhood calming memories.

"The man who believes that education and books are designed for the imparting only of useful information had better read no farther than this sentence; for if he does, he will be irritated many a time by what he regards as ideal and foolish and unworthy of a practical age. But if he believes life to be something more than meat and the body, something more than raiment, and that he needs his books as well as his cloak brought into Macedonia, he may with patience and sympathy follow the guesses herein at the ways and means by which good books may be brought into the life of a boy. For in the living out of the great story of securing shelter and food and raiment, the boy who has never felt the charm of a great book in chimney-corner days, or the man who has bever pored over a "midnight darling" by candlelight, has missed one of the most refined and harmless pleasures of life."

Oh, how many "midnight darlings" have I cuddled up with in chimney corners, tree trunks, bedrooms and couches? How many long summers have passed by quickly with these dear tomes, how many rough patches have I survived thanks to their solid pages? What is it about a book that manages to ground me so firmly in the day to day but also lets my head fly in the world of the make believe?

"The very books themselves are refining because they make up the art of literature, an art that is in its highest sense an expression and interpretation of life. This art deals with the beautiful. Its appeal is primarily to the feelings. Its basis is truth whether actual or hoped for. It is this very nature of literature itself that brings up the question whether the investment put into it is really worth while. How far has education a right to develop a sense of the beautiful? What abiding pleasures and tastes, if any, should the boy of school age seek and cultivate? Just what equipment for life does a boy need, anyhow?"

From a young age, books have kept me entertained, occupied and sane. They teach me about the world I live in and give me entrance to the worlds I wished I could experience. As I age, the act of reading becomes more and more of a guilty pleasure. Something that will afford me nothing but gives me intense pleasure.

"Vigorous and tactful effort will go far to develop pure taste and abiding taste for books."

When it comes to pastimes, it is hard to compete with the addictions of television and the internet (especially you tube, my new preference to TV) but I get a different sensation after a night of reading in bed. Instead of feeling drained and empty, as after a night of TV - I feel filled and floaty, ready to drift off to dream world where I have been for the past couple of hours while my nose was stuck in a book.

"The next thing to look to is a right that is a fixed right of childhood and one that is positively vicious to supress, the right to the land of the fairy life. A free range here will be meat and drink to any boy. Much sorbidness and much selfishness in old age come to the man or woman who has not a cultivated imagination. Logic and cold facts are of precious little value in the fireside life of a family. The best things of that life are not reasoned out; but they are felt out and they are wondered out."

Reading is like the best drug imaginable. No after effects, minimal cost, no hang over, no burnt lungs, no cancer or addiction. Just good old fashioned pleasure and the activation of an imagination that lies dormant most of the day. I love it when I am wrapped up in a good book and throughout my day I get little itches reminding me, "Ooh goodie, tonight I get to escape to the land of San Francisco in the 1800s! Oh boy!"

"The boy who has been nurtured on tales of fancy and who trusts things will work out for the best of their own accord will generally fall into ways of cheerfulness and contentment. He will play the game of life out with more heart and courage, and less doubt and fear. He may be something of an impractical dreamer, but he will be kind and true. He will not aim to understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but will aim to make people happy rather than learned."

There you go, no wonder I am such a flake, it is all those fairy stories my family read me when I was a girl! But that also explains my laissez faire approach to being learned and my preference for feeling instead of fact. It all makes sense now! I can blame the fairies! Damn you Oberon!

"The habits of reading that measure the use of spare time, and in that way the character of the individual, will work for a more sane and less showy home life and through that for a community given to other than obtrusive and frivilous social life. What bundle of habits will serve its slave better than this bundle? Or where is keener and more subdued pleasure to be found? Though books are a bloodless substitute for life...we need some substitute in our hours of ease, and a good book does passing well for such a substitute; and this is especially true if the book be [one of] our favorites...and with it we can square about to fire, snuff the candle, and let the rest of the world spin."

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