October 31, 2007
Great Literature & the Passing of Seasons
Like this time of year in New England (and also when I lived in London and Amsterdam, although I never had a back porch in Europe), you become aware that fall is passing and winter is around the corner.
I can see it in the backlit corners of my heavenly Buddhist haven which I created behind the house - small but serene, covered with plants and herbs. The color of the morning sky changes and you can smell it in the air. The turning of seasons.
While I absolutely love the heat, fall is probably my favorite time of year, particularly when you hit an Indian summer day and are surrounded by bright orange, yellow and red leaves and children whizzing past you on their bikes. This year, I pressed a batch of New England picked leaves between wax paper, just like a ten year old child. It was a precious two hours.
There's something else I notice with the change of seasons, other than the evident coolness of the wind. It's the moment when I close off my back porch (even in San Francisco), which noticeably warms up the rest of the house. Right before and during this time, my reading spikes. I tend to read more at home in the fall than any other time of year.
While I probably read close to as much in the winter and spring, it tends to be on airplanes or hotel rooms rather than on a cozy couch by a fire or on a patio surrounded by living creatures and Veronica, my flowing vibrant hanging plant that would be a redhead if she were human.
My friend Mark -- the same Mark who opened up his lakeside Cape Cod bound house for all my Boston vicinity friends to eat and drink recently -- gave me a huge gift now close to twenty years ago. Mark birthed a dynamic and engaging co-ed book group, largely because of the attitude he brought to it and the type of people who magically appeared because of it. It was here that slow food, slow wine, and reading great literature became a must.
Some of the people in this original group came from homes that chewed on great literature in their daily lives. Daughters and sons of english teachers or renaissance people. So, unless they felt the need to rebel against everything and everyone from the primary years of their lives, its logical that great literature would carry over into their adult lives.
I was raised by my grandparents, who 'believed in reading' and even encouraged it. My grandmother was too busy raising children, grandchildren and far too many men in the family to read the classics later in life, although she constantly talked about novels and authors she admired.
My grandfather on the other hand, read every aspect of news he could get to on a regular basis, but never took up novels until he retired. And then, they constantly flowed into the house and there were books on coffee tables, side tables and next to the bedside lamp.
My father never reads -- anything from what I can tell. Everyone has the one or two things that feed their souls and for him, it is talking to people and talking to people. If he isn't surrounded by people, telling stories or jokes and buying a round of drinks, you can see the light dim in his eyes. They lose their spark, he grows bored and gets easily distracted.
It's no surprise given our background. My great grandmother who was born in 1892 and raised me for chunks of my life, was driven by the exact same thing. She got involved in politics, and one of her four husbands was a local politician as was my Uncle Alton, her oldest son. (interestingly enough, both were also professional tailors)
Despite the fact that she raised four sons, she was always external. When she was at home, just like my father, she spent her time 'getting organized.' The kitchen table was full of clutter, the kind of clutter that fills an academic's desk, everything that is, except for books.
It was remarkable that she knew precisely where things were at any given moment. I went through this same experience recently at my father's flat. His kitchen table seems to house everything that I keep deeply hidden in closets and drawers. Getting him a book on Feng Shui won't really help since he doesn't read.
I get all the same traits from every character on that side of the family, except for perhaps the messy kitchen table. I thrive on connecting to people and while I'm a terrible joke teller, I absolutely love storytelling.
YET, if too much time goes by without reading great literature, I start to feel it in my bones. It's a cranky kind of feeling, not unlike the feeling you have when it has rained for months on end and you long to see a burst of sunlight.
I finished Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country this morning, which isn't even close to a favorite book nor is he a favorite author. But he inspires a very informal conversational tone, as if you're having coffee in a diner with an old friend. And I align with a lot of his thinking, which makes me feel connected, just like soap operas do for those who don't read.
Reading the 'greats' doesn't just give you connection, it gives you inspiration, laughter, reflection and outright joy. And always, above all else, it nutures and strengthens the mind, constantly reminding you to feed your soul and then share that knowledge with others who are in need. It's the essence of life. That and love.
It's why we're here. If you haven't noticed, giving is so much more pleasurable than receiving and if you have only received, then you won't understand this.
So, Vonnegut made me laugh today; it's what he claims he loves doing most. (BTW, he despises people who uses semi-colons so not only am I defying this rule while praising him but I likely used it incorrectly).
He tells us that Shakespeare wasn't a good storyteller, and that the reason Hamlet was such a masterpiece is because it doesn't hide from the truth. Hamlet shoved 'truth' in our faces at every turn.
The bitter sadness of life, the irony, the wisdom we learn after we fail to hear the truth, and then of course, are forced to live it. And so all I'm thinking about all afternoon is TRUTH. Thanks for that Vonnegut.
And then there's another amusing reference and also another truth. He writes, "And then we have contraptions like computers that cheat you out of becoming. Bill Gates says, 'wait till you can see what your computer can become.' But it's you who should be doing the becoming, not the damn fool computer. What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do."
Long live those who give up fame and fortune to write and in doing so, inspire and give back to so many.
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Tracked on Jun 23, 2009 2:31:34 PM
Greetings from Michigan,
I was randomly searching for information regarding Mangrove primates when I came across your blog. As a junior at MSU, i find it extremely inspiring that there are still individuals in the world that are passionate about reading. At school I do surround myself with fun individuals, yet no one shares the interest and love for intellectual literature and conversation that I do. I am always looking for new books, any recommendations? Currently reading: Emerson's "Nature," Hunter S. Thompson's "Hell's Angels," and Bulfinch's Greek Mythology.
Best and Happy Holidays
Posted by: Ben | Dec 16, 2007 10:15:22 AM