Sonata for Piano and Flute by Francis Poulenc is playing. You can listen here.
I am going to have to go on a book fast again. It's simply getting out of hand. This has come to my attention when I visit bookstores with my husband and buy books, then return by myself while he's at work and buy more books.
Today I had lunch with a friend. Next door to the restaurant was a bookstore that was going out of business and clearing out their inventory. So after lunch we strolled over there to see what might be on sale.
As I walked down the aisle to the Classics section a sales clerk looked at me and asked, "Weren't you here before?" Unlike St. Peter, I couldn't deny it and nodded in the affirmative. It was in fact, my third time to visit this particular bookstore in as many days. Friday I went by myself. Saturday, Josh and I drove by the sign and he suggested we go in. Without mentioning that I had already gone, I said, "That's a great idea!" And bought yet another book.
But I am proud of myself. Today I almost bought a book (George Orwell's 1984, Everyman's Library Hardcover in mint condition) but the sales clerk stopped me. No, she didn't act as my bartender, telling me I had had one too many. Instead she informed us (my friend and me) that if we waited a week, the prices were going to sink even lower.
Being the cheapskate that I am, that information gave me enough self-control to hold off buying. I put Mr. Orwell on a shelf in the teen section between two Zombie novels. I figure he'd be safe there. If not, well, it wasn't meant to be.
I also noticed a book by E.M. Forester. It had A Room With a View and Where Angels Fear to Tread. Now, I have both these books, but not in the Everyman's Library Hardcover edition (mint condition!).
So we'll give it a week and see what happens. And after that, the book fast!
On to the book I've just read. C. S. Lewis was a
Christian apologist, science-fiction and fantasy writer, literary historian, poet, cultural critic, and historian of words. Thanks to Cleopatra at Classical Carousal, I learned of a collection of his essays that he wrote about reading books.
An Experiment in Criticism is a series of essays that C.S. Lewis wrote about the habits of reading: why does one read, to what purpose does one read and what kind of taste does one possess that motivates a person to read one sort of book instead of another.
What I like best about Lewis is his ability to perfectly express how I feel about something. I tend to struggle to find the right words to fully communicate to myself and to others what it is I mean to say or feel about a subject. If I read Lewis for no other reason it is to feel affirmed that I am not alone in my opinions and that someone has gone before me and already explained it.
No, I am not as smart as C.S. Lewis, but I do feel in good company.
One thing he adequately expressed was people's taste in certain kinds of books. Once I was at a bookstore with my son and his friends. One friend was pouring over a book written for Adolescents. Now I'm not against books written for adolescents; well, actually most of them are tripe (feel free to correct me) but this one was especially tripe-y. It was poorly written, dreary and just plain mediocre in thought and perspective. I asked the boy, "Why do you want to read those books (it was a series)?"
He answered, "Because I find them interesting."
Yes. But that didn't really answer my question. I wanted to know why he found them interesting. Why did he enjoy reading a book that took you to a very small, unimaginative place. I suppose if all you've ever eaten are pop tarts, you won't be dissatisfied until you've eaten at a 3 Michelin Star restaurant (if you ever do). Same goes for our taste in literature.
Lewis tells us that bad taste is by definition, "a taste for bad books" (pg. 1). He differentiates between "literary readers" and "unliterary readers". He informs us that the "sure mark of an unliterary man" is he considers "'I read it already' as a conclusive argument against reading a work." Literary people will read the same work countless times throughout their life.
Another symptom between literary and unliterary readers is their discussion of the books they read. Literary people think often to themselves about the books they read and discuss it with others. Unliterary people "seldom think or talk of their reading." (pg. 3)
Lewis devotes a whole chapter to the unliterary. Of course these kind of people come in degrees, but the lowest are those that won't read anything but the news. They have no ear for rhythm and "vocalic melody". They are unconscious of style. Something must always be happening and happening at a rapid pace. The unliterary reader reads only narrative because it is only there where he will find an "event". He likes "strip narratives (today we would say graphic novels) and almost wordless films because in them nothing stands between him and the Event."
This reader is starting to sound a little like my son. How have I failed?
Other interesting chapters describe myth and how they should be presented. He tells us that most of them don't travel well in the abstract. That there must a form to how the story unfolds or we could not stay interested. He refers to Greek saga and epic.
One essay discusses fantasy and that the most fantastical tales are not Lord of the Rings or the Norse Edda or any other such story in which we clearly understand that the story would never take place in our own realities. Lewis contends that the most insidious forms of fantasy are the stories that make the reader feel as if they could.
Though they do not mistake their castle-building for reality, they want to feel that it might be. The woman reader does not believe that all eyes follow her, as they follow the heroine of the book; but she wants to feel that, given more money, and therefore better dresses, jewels, cosmetics, (etc.) they might. The man does not believe that he is rich and socially successful; but if only he won a sweepstakes, if only fortunes could be made without talent, he might become so. (pg. 55)
I believe that explains why certain deplorable novels (think mommy porn) are so popular. According to this article, 40%of the highest selling independent self-publishing eBooks fall under the Romance genre.
And speaking of obscenity, Lewis has this to say:
We notice also that "truth to life" is held to have a claim on literature that overrides all other considerations. Authors, retrained by our laws against obscenity-rather silly laws, it may be-from using half a dozen monosyllables, felt as if they were martyrs of science, like Galileo. To the objection "this is obscene" or "This is depraved", or even to the more critically relevant objection "This is uninteresting", the reply "This occurs in real life" seems at times to be thought almost sufficient. (pg. 61)
And I could not agree with his final chapter more. He bemoans the practice in most colleges (then and now) where students are not taught to read a book and derive their own personal experience from the novel or short story, but are told by the professor what to think concerning them. Lewis contends that a criticism of a story does not teach you the truth of the story but rather the story tells one how to consider the criticism.
I see this as especially true today when it seems that certain novels, written by Victorian male writers I might add, are interpreted today as championing feminist causes. Personally, I did not derive that from those stories. Call me a prude (I know I am, I'm not ashamed of it) but I saw those heroines as unhappy selfish, adulterers, not empowered women, shrugging off the "shackles of matrimony and children."
Lewis suggests that "a ten or twenty years' abstinence both from the reading and from the writing of evaluative criticism might do us all a great deal of good."
This is the first book in a series that C.S. Lewis wrote and I will be reviewing. Has anyone else read these criticisms? What is your opinion?
Official C.S. Lewis website