Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

I came back from France thinking that Wallace Stevens, lover of things French and Floridian, might have a poem that would provide a good opening for me to share some of the experiences of what my daughter calls our "French adventure," but I haven't come up with one yet. Instead, I got stuck on one that seems to me related to my recent post about funding for public libraries in Ohio and a post over at Linus's Blanket about whether blog reviewers should add disclaimers to their reviews, in that it's about finding truth--about finding some truth calmly, on your own, in the quiet of a summer night:

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Reading only books that you think you agree with--because of disclaimers or reviews or anything else--can lead to increasing narrow-mindedness. Our country is getting fragmented enough without people trying to read only the books that they already agree with. I’d like to see more people read books that challenge some of their beliefs. In fact, I guess that will have to be my summer reading challenge. I'll go out and find a book that I suspect I don't agree with, read it, and report back to you all before September.

Join me in this challenge? It doesn't even have to be a whole book--an essay would do nicely.

Update: For those of you who don't want to read non-fiction this summer, you could choose something outside your usual comfort zone--a new genre, or a classic author if you usually read new fiction. Here are a few suggestions:

Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale--for a look at what theocracy could look like in the U.S.
Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer--to remind yourself what it's like to be frustrated with dating and marriage rituals
Buckley's Boomsday--to decide if you should worry about whether you'll ever be able to retire
Kaufman's The Laramie Project--an explosion of the excuse that "this sort of thing doesn't happen here"
Hughart's Bridge of Birds--a good story that isn't all it seems
Ozeki's All Over Creation--if you don't know much about modern agriculture
Orwell's 1984 and then Doctorow's Little Brother--if you think safety can be more important than freedom
Anderson's Feed--if you spend much time in front of a screen
Miller's Death of a Salesman or Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath--for company in economic misery

10 comments:

trish said...

I think this is a really good question, but I don't have a good answer for it.

I don't read non-fiction, because while I love knowledge and learning and information, reading non-fiction isn't my thing. However, I don't avoid fiction because it may have something in it that I don't agree with.

Recently I couldn't stop talking to a gay author about how this one book I was reading would be good for gay teens, but would I read a book that talked about how books with gay protagonists could be beneficial to gay teens? Absolutely not. I have no desire to read about that. But given the opportunity to discuss it, I would stand out in the cold and go hungry until I was satisfied with the discussion (i.e. we had discussed things ad nauseum).

I think there's a lot of nuances to why people avoid certain books, though I feel sad that some would avoid a book because it has something they disagree with or find offensive.

trish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole said...

That's a great idea for a challenge. I have to think about what I don't agree with. I'm sure there is plenty but nothing is jumping out at me right now. Maybe Lolita.

I do think it's really important to g beyond what is comfortable in a way that is safe to do so, and I think that reading wonderfully affords this opportunity. I'm always curious about most things and want to see for myself and I feel like others should decide for themselves which is why I can't get into disclaimers and don't pay them any attention either.

Jeanne said...

Trish, I added an update with some suggestions for reading fiction outside one's usual comfort zone.

Nicole, I agree about disclaimers, but my friend Amy makes a good point about how a warning can make her wary readers more willing to look past things that might otherwise make them stop reading.

FreshHell said...

I pondered this and how fiction fit into it. I've read a couple of the books on your list. I read fiction differently than I do non-fiction. Which I guess is how many people do. With fiction, I'm often intrigued by people different than me and its finding that bit of humanity, finding sympathy or empathy for someone completely different than myself.

As for non-fiction, I usually avoid "preaching to the choir" stuff for that very reason. I want to be challenged. I recently bought a book at the library by Anita Bryant who stands for everything I don't. We couldn't be on more opposite ends of the spectrum. The book was purchased sort of as a joke but I sat down and read it first because I was curious to know what she had to say, how she interpreted faith in her life. What I discovered was a very unhappy person living a very unhappy life in complete denial. I googled her later and was surprised and relieved to find she eventually divorced her husband. It made her more human, more falliable. I felt sympathy for someone I would not have prior to reading that book. Does that count?

FreshHell said...

"how many people do?" Sorry for the incredibly bad English sentence there. Not enough sleep.

Jeanne said...

Freshhell, you reading Anita Bryant is a stunningly good example of what I'm talking about.

SFP said...

I follow the blog of a woman who thinks the opposite of me on practically every issue out there, even though she apparently felt differently herself when she was younger. I keep trying to understand what changed her and if it's possible that I could one day do a 180 switch. . .

And I have in the past made attempts to read from the books of Limbaugh and Coulter (instructors often have books by political pundits on reserve at the library). I wouldn't be opposed to reading Glenn Beck's book if the opportunity arose, but I can't see actually spending money on a copy.

I read a lot of op-eds I don't agree with, too. And then there's the fact that my husband and I don't belong to the same political party, either.

Jeanne said...

SFP, I sometimes read Op-Eds I know I'll disagree with, but I've been trying to get myself to stop reading Cal Thomas because it makes me hit the roof first thing in the morning! I grew up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and so developed resistance to the Limbaugh influence from an early age.

Libraries really are the best place to broaden the scope of one's reading.

Bryan Loar said...

That was a great post on SOL.