some random bookish thoughts

I don\’t do this kind of post often, but have been thinking lately a few things about books, where else better to share them.

~ Do you ever come across a book that suddenly makes you realize how very different times are now from a century or more ago. How acutely opposite the way people thought, their worldview, their concerns and outlook on things?

A few of these have really jumped out at me lately. When I read The Alley Cat (published 1981), there was a character distinctly disdained by the others for his bookish habits. They all seemed puzzled by his immersion in the written word, dismissed and pitied him for it, and tried to avoid his company, because his conversation was so dull and incomprehensible! In Beautiful Joe (published 1893) also, there was a son who loved to read. The mother saw this as a bad habit and advised how to compassionately encourage a reader to set the books aside and become engaged with the world. She was very earnest about this. I\’m glad reading as a whole is no longer seen as a lazy habit that will ruin your mind. I have run into people who can\’t imagine why I spend time reading- it seems pointless to them- but overall I think most parents and teachers encourage their kids to read, correct? (Or do I just see it that way because I am a reader).

On a different note, in The Sea and the Jungle (published 1912) there\’s a little passage about a man who looses his job because he went into debt. Not to the company, just in his own circumstance. His wife was ill, the doctor bills unmanageable so he \”went to the moneylenders\” and this was seen as such a foolish, irresponsible act that his boss (a \”rigid moralist\”) fired him because a man who got into debt, not being able to control his own life, was no good for the business of another man. How times have changed. While I don\’t like having debt and am trying to pay mine off, I can\’t imagine someone nowadays getting fired for simply acquiring it!

I ran into quite a different example when I tried to read Mr. Sponge\’s Sporting Tour (published 1853). I couldn\’t get past the first chapter, as I could not at all visualize what was being described. It was mostly about clothing styles. Characters were introduced with meticulous descriptions of their clothes, obviously meant to communicate something about their station in life and habits, but I had no idea what all these clothing articles were, much less what they said about the person. It makes me think that a lot of books which have remained classics over the decades, have a key feature: not only are they well-written, compelling stories, but they must also be accessible to readers beyond their own time frame. Books like this one full of dense descriptions that are pretty much meaningless to someone like me, have made themselves obscure in part because they\’re hard to enjoy and understand. At least, that\’s my thought.

~ On a completely different track, why is it that when I saw this picture, I instantly and vividly thought of The Dragonbone Chair (which I haven\’t read in over a decade)? Was there a scene in the forest where Simeon saw a white deer, or some other elusive, mysterious animal? I cannot remember. Anyone enlighten me? (I never finished that series either, got about halfway through its sequel Stone of Farewell. Another set of books I mean to go back to someday).

3 Responses

  1. What's especially crazy to me is how much olden days people opposed reading fiction. Like, that whole trope where nonfiction could be improving, but fiction was just going to ruin you. And that idea seems to have stuck around for a while — weren't the dour aunts and grandparents in the LM Montgomery books always scolding people for reading NOVELS?

  2. Yes! That's what I was thinking! I can understand how adults would protest at younger people reading um, romance or erotica, but just plain old novels? there's lots of older fiction where adults scolded teens and young ladies for ruining their eyes and minds with fiction, isn't there?

  3. Kind of crazy the changes times brings. I am always taken aback when someone goes to bed because they have a headache. And I always have to think twice when characters from old novels worry about traveling in poor weather. What's a little rain or snow? And then, oh yeah unpaved roads, carriages, horses.

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