Mind over Medium

Art, Literature, and Pseudo-Science

Tag: books

I Liked to Read: A Note on the Death of Reading

Elizabeth Hayes

English 4360 – Literary Theory

4 February 2010

Losing Friends

I liked to read. I liked it very much, in fact. My marble-round child eyes slurped up words like alphabet soup. I remember Go, Dog, Go being folded, opened, cracked, crinkled, and thumbed until it became brown around the edges from finger grime, as did the mythology section of the Webster’s Dictionary. My mother can still flip right to that section because of the sepia line ringing the pages. My mother taught me to love reading when I was still very young. My mother read Laura Ingalls’ The Little House series to me every night before bed, chapter by chapter, for two years. I learned about wolves, maple syrup, sod houses, prairie fires, and buffalos while most of my friends preferred to watch TV and eat Spaghetti-Os. My mother bought all sorts of books for me, but none really felt like they were mine. I longed for a book of my own.

One day when I was six, I found a little green book called A Birthday is a Special Day at a church yard sale —a lithographed gem floating on a tiny island in the middle of a gelatinous ocean of burbling magma. Why so? The thin green volume rested at the very edge of Helen Rose’s booth. Helen Rose’s gnarly old hands laced with lavender veins, her gently curved back under her pink sweater, and her spider-web white bun made her sweet looking, but the woman raged as no bull ever has or ever will.

She clamped her arthritic hands around the church library like a miser’s fist around gold. The books did not budge from those shelves. If you did gather enough moxy to check something out, she became your personal poltergeist until every page, stitch, and letter was back on the shelf, snuggled into the blanket of dust from whence it came.

What brain aneurism, amnesia, or dementia prompted her to suddenly sell off  her printed treasure, I might never know, but A Birthday is a Special Day teetered at the edge of the table, tottering in the crisp September breeze.

I stole it—snatched it right off the edge more stealthily than a mouse steals oatmeal. I squirreled that book away, into the juniper bushes that prickled and bit. Blue juniper berries smushing my pastel dress into a pastel mess, I sucked up the happy rhymes and reveled in the spindly, curly font. The book was as friendly, spirited, and idyllic as the friends I didn’t have. I hugged it to my chest and felt fulfilled. I fell under the spell of words, into the binding embrace of an open chapter. The slender green book had stolen me in return.

The little book sent my desire to read spinning. I whirled through the family library, reading everything from The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar to the Encyclopedia Britannica and even some old chemistry textbooks. The back of the Frosted Cheerios box took two minutes in my morning routine and advertisements for discount shampoo and orthopedic shoes that scattered out of the Sunday paper never hit the floor. Anything with language on it, even unintelligible French warnings on the car visor, I strained to absorb as quickly as my mind could process.

By the time I reached middle school, I had read The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Greenwitch, The Unlikely Ones, The Cube Route, and The Giver. National Geographics that arrived in a brown paper sleeve printed with pandas or Neanderthals took thirty minutes to consume. The glossy paper, color pictures, and fascinating articles inside made my school work—mundane essays and state-mandated short stories—seem grey and distant: clouds edging a star-blazed sky. Nutrition labels on the over-salted cans of Campbell’s soup, annoying subscription postcards that tumbled out of Newsweek, and the anticipated bi-monthly Chemical and Engineering News spoke to me, shared their life experiences with me. They still held a warm friendship for me even as my human companions left me behind.

While my personal reading blossomed, my school reading wilted. I never liked school. I hated it, in fact. Screaming children, wicked playground games, rotten milk in gluey cartons, and over-worked teachers beyond retirement battered my body and scarred my brain with unwanted human truths. I tried to hide from the chaos in my books, but soon enough, my printed friends fell victim to education.

Sixth grade brought Mrs. Lopez and her sentence by sentence plod through Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I could not force myself, even threatened with demerits, to slow down to her lethargic, clumping pace. As we took turns around the room I wanted to scream when Andrew Garcia missed his sentence once again because he was sucking the ink out of his golden gel pen.

“Let’s start at the beginning of the paragraph again, shall we?” Mrs. Lopez would say.

I had already finished the chapter and began to count off what passages I would have to read. I marked each one with a star and read the next chapter between sentences. My clever escape was discovered soon enough.

I had lost myself three chapters ahead, wondering how the rats came across their names, when I felt the teacher’s vile blue pen smack my neck.

“Elizabeth! Keep up!” Mrs. Lopez barked.

Punishment was hand-copying the chapter in cursive during lunch hour, but neat handwriting couldn’t save me. My constant reading ahead assaulted my read-aloud time and continued to cost me brownie points in the “smart kid” department. By ninth grade, my refusal to retard my reading pace finally caught up to me.

Assuming that I flat-out couldn’t read, the school put me in freshman remedial reading where I wrote haikus about Prince Caspian and did mindless plot worksheets until my bored brain finally exploded. Arching up like a cobra, I flung my pencil at the chalkboard, livid. I was ushered to the office where the principal asked what the class had been doing.

“Oh, we were writing plot triangles over chapter four,” Mrs. Greywell said. She held up the purple ditto sheet with a picture of a grinning cartoon boy holding up a pyramid labeled “Feeling Words.” I had filled my pyramid with a sketch of a ragged dancing bear, pierced through the nose by an iron ring, from that month’s issue of National Geographic.

“Dance, you fool, dance!” I had scrawled underneath.

I was eventually moved to the regular English class, but it was hardly different. The work was longer and stories duller. The large, purple anthology, six years old and tearing at the spine, held a few good poems, a smattering of fresh prose, a plethora of fascinating biographies, but we never read any of those. Instead, the class took up their pens and slashed through exhausted passages of Dickinson and Shakespeare like savages.

Sixteen is a turbulent time in anybody’s life, and I was no exception. Suddenly life was thrust at me on anything but a silver platter—more like a seething basket of snakes. I went to a private Methodist school because Espanola High ran rampant with drugs, gangs, and a vicious anti-white prejudice. A fair-skinned geek like me, my parents knew, would not survive for long at public school. What they did not know was that private Methodist school brought different challenges, forcing the war from the physical realm into a mental or even spiritual one.

The required religion courses were not intrinsically bad. The information they brought was actually fascinating, but the teacher, oh, the teacher! A small, fish-faced old man with a wild fringe of white wiry hair that flared out like a grass skirt over his ears ran the classroom. The first day of class every year he stood in front of the room, using a yardstick like a cane, and rocked back and forth on his heels. A ghoulish grin spread his mounded wrinkles.

“Welcome to my classroom,” he said. “I am Mr. Bruner.”

He rocked back and forth. His imp eyes glittered.

“Here, I am God.”

Mr. Bruner wasn’t joking. He wielded his power like the Old Testament God: wrathfully. You did as he said; spoke as he ordered; thought as he desired you to think. He assigned books not to read them, but so he could re-write them under his own divine influence. Hinds Feet in High Places, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and even Jurassic Park —all utterly decimated by the touch of his translucent, pink fingers.

The worst, the very worst, of the lot was The Screwtape Letters. Devils, voices, tricks, hellfire, and fouled religion brightened his imp eyes like no other story in his massive library. The mangled book scrambled my adolescent brain. The Screwtape Letters wasn’t like the other books I had read. Under Mr. Bruner’s oppressive preaching, the book offered no comfort, no kinship, no love. It growled at me from under my bed, breathing, haunting my nights with shadows in the corner of my room. I could see the specter’s claws reaching out from the darkness, black as India ink, spreading over my walls, carpet, sheets like a flood. The voices howled in my head, for the book had woken the devils of my dreams. The nagging voices laughed at me, taunted my insufficiencies, and circumvented my last threads of sanity.

It killed me. Verily, it did. More than the boredom of poetical annotations or theme descriptions, the words that skittered through my brain did more damage than any other literary exercise. The teacher’s twist of a book intended to enlighten plunged me into darkness instead. The world was no longer a safe place. Books were not all friends anymore. I discovered books shoved in the back of closets, on the bottom shelves of libraries, and in the backpacks of my friends, full of horror, desecration, hatred, and evil. I learned how distorted a book can become in the hands of a vicious teacher and how a book can destroy as much as it builds.

It is only fitting to me that a book should lay me open the way I have done to them for so many years, dirtying my edges as my fingers had crusted the pages of picture books so many years ago. High school might have frightened me from books, but I still found reading a comforting entertainment in the dull hours of the night. There was still the beauty of the language, if not of the content. The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Canterbury Tales delighted me during my junior and senior years of high school. I wrote some of my best essays, poems, and letters under the influence of these and other works. The way the words trickled, skipped, flowed like blood, even in the horror, was beautiful. Their words were worth a thousand pictures. Then the content, too, was suffocated from my soul.

I liked to read. I liked to read very much. Now, I do not read. I still long for the old books, the feeling of belonging and calm they gave to me when I sat under the ash tree and read until the sunset turned the light too purple to see. College stole the light utterly.

The dark clouds that had roiled on the horizon since grade school broke free from the mountains, roared over the valley of my conscience, thundering, flashing, and raging, and settled their darkness over my head. The storm of words and notions fogged over my vision as the wind of speculation picked up paragraphs and smashed them into theory. The bindings, empty, begging for me to save them, whirled away in the tempest like limp bodies.

The books I thought I knew, the plays I once loved, are actually thinly disguised smut. The beautiful words are only lies. The language is a Persian rug to cover a foundation of mud. Books are not friends, I was told, they are malicious mazes and monsters dwell between the lines. The scholars mocked my child-like love of literature, taunting me with spiteful vigor and turns-of-phrase. I put my hands over my ears, squeezed my eyes shut, and clamped my mouth closed because everything was wrong.

It was wrong to rip my relationship to the writing from me and substitute another; wrong to laugh at my emotional response, my ties, my devotion to these tomes; wrong to chase from my eyes the beauty I saw; wrong to change the way I think. To change me. It was wrong to rip the literature out of my soul and turn us into nothing but objects to be studied.

Books have souls. Ink is their lifeblood. I dread reading now, because I know that I will have to murder the work, dissect it down to its smallest organs. I am not a butcher. I am a small child who reads with a corrupted innocence that longs to read again, but I am given knives disguised as knowledge. Every word is cut out, ingested, digested, and vomited out again, a reader’s bulimia. I love the taste, but oh the horror of the weight it gives me! The Os plead with their gaping mouths while every “i” stares in horror. I cannot look at them. I cannot.

I do not fear death. I do not fear pain. I do not wish to remain naïve and oblivious to suffering. I can appreciate the turns in life, good and bad, but I cannot abide having something so close and loved rendered meaningless by blather. The world has enough noise and confusion as it is. I wish to read again, alone, in peace.

_________________

“When you want to build a ship, do not begin by gathering wood, cutting boards, and distributing work, but rather awaken within men the desire for the vast and endless sea.”

{attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupery}

I see the problem more clearly now. However, this time, I am on the other side of the classroom, the wretched teacher forced to brandish the fiend knives and command brains with hardly a desire in them to dice up some essay on economical depletion or other such dense drivel. Many students of mine hardly muster the will to read the picture captions in People Magazine; a six page article on Abraham Lincoln explaining the complex relationships between his cabinet members is like having to eat a mill’s worth of sawdust.

What have we done to reading? What has become of books? They are no longer something to treasure or even respect. There is a huge split now and not just literate/illiterate. Books have become a religion. Those read to dissect a book brag righteously about it, lording it above others, while those who loathe reading fight vehemently against any mere suggestion of digesting a  written word. It is not because the books are objects to worship or scorn, but because many people have never been taught to read. Yes, I said it: in our attempt to foster educational growth, we have taught literacy, not reading.

I believe it is because our obsessive literary dissection has turned books from enjoyable experience into overwhelming puzzles. Some people are adept at these puzzles. They derive great satisfaction from finding all the hidden meanings amidst the double-speak. But others are not so inclined and they are not to be blamed for it any more than someone ought to be blamed for enjoying spicy foods or being terrible at basketball. However, the popular method for teaching literature is doing future generations a great disservice because it insists that in order to comprehend a passage, it must be completely disassembled and reassembled before you’re allowed to move onwards to the next victim.

Children are no longer taught to just pick up a book to read it. They are trained to pick up a book and pick it apart, which only teaches them that knowledge from books is a nasty chore akin to fishing a quarter out of the cafeteria dumpster. If reading a book is made into such tedious work without an explanation about the purpose or rewards for the labor, of course people will seek the comforting embrace of a movie that does the explaining for them! It’s human nature to find the easy way out, so the phenomena is not unexpected. It’s just sad that the thing most people are trying to escape from understanding the written word.

I don’t believe that books are dead yet. We may have sliced them up and shoved the remains into the dusty closet of academia, but there is still hope for a revival. The electrifying kick literacy needs isn’t more essays, worksheets, or lectures. The hope for the book lies in the most sacred part of the school day: recess. Get poor, pale pages out of the sickly, yellow florescent hell of the classroom every once and a while and show people how to read just for the reckless pleasure of it! I am not against schoolwork, projects, and discussion. There are lots of important messages hidden in between the black and white type that must be found in order to fully grasp the gravity of a story. It is not discover that I am disillusioned with but our way of teaching dissection before the student fully comprehends and appreciates the object which they are slicing apart.

I realize that this is why I no longer read. I, too, have been sucked in by the complicated task of reading for tricks, rather than treats. I have only read about three books all the way through in the past two years, often because my whole day is spent shredding the same passages over and over for a group of students who were never taught the beauty of words. I used to be able to digest about three books in a day. Now, I feel a weariness towards them that I imagine my students have learned to feel.

But I am trying. I am taking the first small steps in my own Reading Rehab program. I will not let literary  theory/synthesis/exposition and its dogma weigh down the glory of enjoying a good book (or even a terrible one even now and then for a deliciously bad shock). I enjoy some of the little puzzles between the lines, but I have re-learned which ones are meant to be solved and which ones are coquettish phantoms that the author never meant to put there. The years have taught me what research is practical  and worthwhile and which is pointless. I have directionality now. I have hope that in the future, others will not have to re-learn how to read as I have. Books are your friends. Stop being their psychologist, and get back to being BFFs!

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A Self Portrait in Scents

Today I read a slightly mocking article on Yahoo News about weird perfumes like char-broiled burger and new laptop. I ended up at the Demeter Perfume website, a magical fairyland I had not visited for a very long time. Demeter Perfumes specializes in unusual scents. Yahoo picked Play Doh as Demeter’s weirdest, but there are quite a few stranger than that– celery, clean windows, wine dregs and earthworm among them– that are more like a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans challenge than what most would consider fine perfumes. They have some “normal” scents, too, like lavender and many different flowers, but it’s the strange scents that get the most attention…and entertaining reviews (for example Jess from Western MA who said “cannabis flower” smelled too much like flowers and not enough like pot).

I love smelling things; just ask anyone who’s ever gotten within a foot of me and they’ll tell you. When I meet someone, I lean in an give ’em a sniff because you can tell a lot about someone just by smell. Do they smell like bleach with a hint of citrus and soap? They are cleanly folks who like order. Do they smell like band-aids and grass. Soccer player. Every. Time. Do they stink like a wildebeest wallowing in musty brine? They don’t shower and probably couldn’t care less what you think of them or they just came from the gym and care way too much about what you think of them. All of that’s usually natural body odor or environmental leftovers. Humans use perfumes to change or mask those odors.

You can tell a lot about a person by the perfumes they choose. We expect bubbly blonds to like “girly” fruity and sugary smells, men to like “masculine” leather and musk, and old ladies to dab on enough florals to gag a bee. But what if you had every scent in the world available to you and you could bottle your memories, dreams, likes and dislikes? Demeter Perfumes is working on doing just that.

So I pulled a Severus Snape, distilling my personality into a series of essences that, unlike most art media, you can’t see, touch, or hear. It’s a self portrait in scents! If you could smell my soul it might smell like this:

A storm on the move over the mountains, clever puns, old silver, nights outside, inked paper and books, leather and whoop-ass, quiet thoughts alone, and (most importantly) tea in dainty china or unbelievably huge plastic cups.

Our brains record smell memories faster than almost any other. Have you ever walked by someone or something in the grocery store and suddenly had déjà vu, but you couldn’t pin down why? It’s probably because your nose picked up on a smell from long ago and it triggered a recall response, but since smells have no visual clues and humans are rather dependent on visuals for comprehension, you couldn’t “see” the memory in your head. It was just a scent on the air, a little puff of Febreeze at the back of your mind. Sometimes it is the small of red Kool Aid from a 4th birthday party or the detergent an old lover used to use. I had a friend who smelled her gramma’s chocolate chip pancakes everywhere she went. If smells affect our minds so powerfully, shouldn’t everyone strive to make sure it’s their true selves everyone is remembering and not some fake cologne we sprayed on because it’s “cool?”

(Axe, I’m looking at you. you make men smell gross. Stop it!)

Review: eReaders – The New Frontier?

From the beginning of time—or rather since my young self played around with the magical “make-your-own science certificate” computers at the atomic museum—touch screens and I have not gotten along. For some odd reason, the screens do not register my fingertips correctly, so I have never really gotten to experience the great thrill of controlling the whole world with my thumbs. I’ve never really cared for all the touch-screeny things out there (I still carry a cell phone with push-buttons and electronic ringtones straight from ye olde synthesizer), but yesterday I was in the bookstore with dear Christopher. I was in one of my usual spots on the top floor of the Barns and Nobel, sitting shoeless at the corner intersection of the antique collector guides and the “How to Knit your Own Strangely Ruffled Sweaters” manuals. I was perusing a lavishly photographed book of Victorian agate jewelry when Christopher wandered over, beaming with an otherworldly light like Moses. He explained in clippy, ecstatic syllables that he was going downstairs to buy a tablet reader. He then floated downstairs on a cloud of heavenly angels (the escalator) and out of sight.

I was excited. That’s the light way of putting it. In fact, I leapt down the escalator after him and feigned apathy while I secretly vultured his purchase all the way home. This device was the holy grail of literature, a mechanism that would allow access to thousands of works from anywhere in world with a Wi-Fi connection at any time of day. My dream of buying Jane Eyre in the middle of Whataburger at 3am on a Sunday from my private island in Maui could now come true! Instant bookworm gratification at its highest level! After fiddling with his new gadget for hours on end, Christopher was finally forced to put it down and attend a meeting. He placed it across the table from me, off-handedly remarking that he had downloaded some Lovecraft earlier. I nodded politely and saluted him farewell, demurely typing on my laptop until the door locked behind him. Then I pounced!

I turned it on, hacked the password, and tried to contain myself as the home screen came up.

What was to come of this technological leap from the world of print to the electronic prairie of pixels?

I pressed the cover picture of Lovecraft’s works and linked my way to one of his essays. Dots appeared, circling round and round in a jittery conga line. I knew the old HP computers they forced upon us at school had loading screens, but H.P. Lovecraft? Sweet sea-biscuits of Cthulhu!

After that initial shock, the page loaded and I learned three things:

1) They did not fix the problem of the title of the next chapter being at the bottom of the previous one while the first sentence of the article was forced to begin life alone. Why do they still do this? Printing a volume is no longer prohibitively expensive, so there is no need to jam as much wordage onto a page as possible. And this is an e-reader. There is no paper, no ink, no glue, no linen, no physical copy. One PDF file takes over the job of a whole industry from factory, to transit, to sales. The way an e-reader works isn’t a side-by-side format either, but a series of individual pages. Why are they still orphaning the titles?

PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF LITERATURE AND DINGBATS, STOP PUTTING THE TITLE OF THE NEXT ARTICLE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PREVIOUS ONE!

2) E-book prices have almost no juried price guide. Since e-readers draw the knowledge of the ages from computer files on the great wide web instead of the print shop, technically the text should be much cheaper. Christopher bought his new-fangled e-reader in protest of high textbook prices (mini rant here). He hoped that by purchasing the device, his school-related costs would be dramatically reduced. Instead, he discovered that e-books vary wildly in price. Some books could be bought for the price of their used, printed counterparts or even less. One of his textbooks, however, was going to cost him about $150 if he bought the print copy. Logically, since there is little to no cost to print the book over and over and over and over, the e-book version should be cheaper. WRONG! The e-book version actually cost more than the print version! I understand that royalties must be paid, authors must make money, and the online distributers like to make a little grease off the sales as well, but this stinks to me of money-scented laundering detergent!

And lastly…

3) Great grammatical gorgons! I can read in the dark!

After all these life-changing realizations, I noticed that Lovecraft’s essays sounded nauseatingly similar to my college essays that I wrote five hours before they were due, so I unceremoniously closed the “book,” and went back to playing Angry Birds and shopping online for a print copy of A Book of Precious Stones: The Identification of Gems and Gem Minerals, and an Account of their Scientific, Commercial, Artistic, and Historical Aspects by Julius Wodsika (1909). So far, the only version I can find seems to be an online PDF….

Mysteriously Embarrassing: Edith Wharton

I rescued a book from the freebie table in my university English Department today. It was the oldest tome on the table, and being inevitably drawn to ratty old books, I swiped it. The cover was faded and the golden title and author were nondescript and unknown to me. The cover brought to mind old hymnals. Texture-wise, hymnals have always set my teeth slightly on edge, but like many old hymnals, this humble book had something of far greater value: cottony, rough-cut quarto-fold.

The paper was cut sporadically– sometimes varying by whole millimeters. Closed, the book looks like a stack of torn paper napkins or over-washed dollar bills. Many old books have these jagged cut edges. I adore them, and regard them fondly.  Some modern bookbinders  copy this look in an attempt to lend an aged, “authentic-ness” to the book, but they can never match the soft, intriguing texture of an antique book.

Anyhow, back to the book at hand. When I picked it up, the book belched a loose page onto the floor. When I examined the fallen page, I discovered this particular book was illustrated. I was delighted. I began to look through the book with eager anticipation.  Thumbing through the pages in my quest for illustrations, I was struck by the odd, clumsy opening paragraph of the story:

“It is not often that youth allows itself to feel undividedly happy: the sensation is too much the result of selection and elimination to be within reach of the awakening clutch on life. But Kate Orme, for once, had yielded herself to happiness, letting it permeate every faculty as a spring rain soaks into a germinating meadow. There was nothing to account for this sudden sense of beatitude; but it was not this precisely which made it so irresistible, so overwhelming? There had been, within the past two months– since her engagement to Denis Peyton– no distinct addition to the sum of her happiness, and no possibility, she would have affirmed, of adding perceptibly to a total already incalculable.”

Granted, it may just be my personal preferences in conflict with the early 20th century stylings, but the diction and syntax still tickle me as slightly odd and cryptic. Clearly, this story floated along the lines of Kate Chopin’s Awakening. Now distracted, I turned to page 117 and was delighted by another odd quote:

“In the dim light, with his pallour heightened by the sombre effect of his mourning, he came upon her almost startlingly, with a revival of some long-effaced impression, which, for a moment, gave her a sense of struggling among shadows.”

Truly, the last phrase was utter genius, but the rest of the sentence was deliciously ’round-about. The feast of funny phrases continued:

“Mrs. Peyton’s midnight musings summed themselves up in the conclusion that the next few hours would end her uncertainty.”
(Delightfully alliterative and repetitious, like a child’s favorite song played over and over and over and over…)
“If the girl should reconcile Dick to his weakness, should pluck the sting from his reputation?”
(Either an editor or a typesetter took a well-deserved nap or something more unusual is going on in this question.)

Other bits are more interesting stylistic habits or simply a matter of the obvious:

"This record is broken!" "Oh! The poor thing!"

"droop of slackness"

The table of illustrations is especially fun (pardon the blurred picture). Here, the serious storyline is summed up in grand, accidental humor:

Lets hope Dick doesnt live up to his name.

I was about to have a wildly good time with this book, excited that I had in my possession a genuine piece of poorly written/edited literature, a real Inverted Jenny of the book world! High on pride and binding glue, I googled the title and author.

Oh crap.

The joy bubble popped. When the search results finished loading (the free internet in my economy apartment is a little temperamental) Edith Wharton, the “unknown author” of my dingy treasure, is actually the Edith Wharton, author of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize winner The Age of Innocence and all-around Queen of Awesome. Ah, I can hear the English teachers reaching for their torches and pitchforks as I type…

Queen of Awesome

This book is obviously not the famous Age of Innocence, but one of her earlier works from 1903, Sanctuary. For those of you who are (were) as ignorant about this story as I was, here is the eye-opening (and shaming) summary from The University of Pennsylvania Press:

“Kate Orme is a young woman whose illusions of marital bliss are shattered when she comes face to face with the dark secret harbored by her fiance, the wealthy and deceptively ebullient Denis. Kate decides to go ahead and marry Denis, however, as a selfless gesture to protect any child he may conceive from inheriting their father’s moral weakness. The couple does have a child, Dick, and in a marriage with a man that Kate has admittedly ceased to love, she transfers her original affections for Denis to their son.
“Denis dies suddenly and Kate is left to raise their young son. Knowing that Dick could have inherited the faults of his father, Kate anticipates a time when Dick’s morality will be severely tested. That time comes years later when Dick, an eligible bachelor and aspiring professional, is faced with a dilemma that will affect the course of his life.
“With the precision, beauty, and sharp awareness of the cracks in upper-class New York society that made her one of the great writers of the twentieth century, Edith Wharton offers a subtle critique of the nature versus nurture debate that raged in the early 1900s. Sanctuary is a spare and moving investigation of the forces that impel human beings toward sin, self-doubt, and redemption”

The Last Illustration

I still find the wording and the pace cumbersome, but now that I can’t admire the author for being absolutely rediculous and still achieving publishing success, I can still admire Walter Appleton Clark’s powerful illustrations. Though printed with disjointed quotes (remember the table of contents?), the haunting images are breathtaking. Many wholehearted thanks to the faculty member who discarded this gem. I love it.

~*~

Beautiful Books ~*

I love beautiful things, especially old books. Leatherbound, foxed, stamped, rough-edged, front plates with tissue paper covers…old books are like wonderous new friends you’ve known forever. They are one of my favorite things to collect.

Yesterday, Chris gave me the most beautiful book. It’s a copy of “Friendship” by Cicero and Emerson, with sprinklings of quotes from Suckling, Shakespeare, and all those other poetic Englishmen of old. The binding is breathtaking, bound in midnight blue fabric and stamped with ornate Art Nouveau designs. Usually the pretty designs stop at the cover or maybe the title page, but this book has 238 pages of full-color, gilded borders. EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. And the binding is crisp, as though Miss Bernardine Hester (whose name is written delicately on the first page) never opened the book after Mr and Mrs. Jones gave it to her on June 7th, 1910. Perhaps Cicero wasn’t Bernardine’s favorite author, so the book ended up like many gift books do, tossed on the shelf and forgotten.  The book passed down the family for almost 100 years, before someone decided cash was better than a dull dissertation on Friendship and sold it to Half Price books. The gem of a tome sat on the shelf for God knows how long, before sweet Christopher decided to save it and give it to me.

Oh, the best part of any book, more than golden edges, more than great authors, or full-color plates, is the person who unites a book with a reader. And what a person he is! Thank you, Christopher, for giving me the most beautiful book in world. I will never toss it on a shelf to be forgotten –never.

{I Love You}

Friendship