Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Monday, May 19, 2008

Of Time and Books

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day."
-Winnie the Pooh

I read 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak a year ago, borrowed from the library.
By the turning of the final page, I resented the sentimentality of the work, the fact that I felt pushed into feeling compassion for the main character: a child- The Book Thief- who had lost her family, loved books and was caught up in one of the most dreadful events in human history.
How could a decent person feel anything but sympathy for her? With that, how could I be free to form an opinion of my own? Even in the highly likely scenario that I came to admire the character, I would rather have arrived at that conclusion by myself and not through artful coaxing akin to emotional blackmail.
It was not so much that the girl's character left me cold; rather I was irritated by the glaring fact that I was fated to like her no matter what.
I mused to Mater the other week that I had not stopped thinking about it in twelve months. I had spent months defending my attitude and arguing with my own self in verbose bouts of literary debate that it was an overly-saccharine, self-indulgent novel.
I mentioned it to Mater and- I never learn- she sent me the book the following week.
While I still consider that such a carefully constructed character portrayal leaves little room for development of an opinion, I do feel that a second reading has, surprisingly, warmed me to the novel.
Perhaps this time I paid more attention to the little detail, to the lines beyond the child herself, to the humanity and the cruelty that surrounded her in the story.
At second glance, then, it is suddenly lyrical and lovely and heartbreaking and, though I took the slow train of stubbornness, reached my destination in the end.
I wonder if perhaps, bizarrely, the greatest review a writer can receive, beyond the accolades and typical applause and single-faced murmurs of approval, is this:
"I did not like your book at all. And now I do."

I know of somebody who, when I was little, took a book about a famous composer out of the library. It was an enormous volume, staggering in size, and filled with rich paintings and passages about the musician's curious life.
The person in question liked the book so very much that she renewed it before the due date and kept it for another three weeks. She did that repeatedly for a year and a half, I believe, until she was forced to return it when another composer enthusiast had requested the same book.
I do not doubt that she would still today have the book in her possession had that anonymous fellow not come along and intervened.

Nancy Drew stories are delightful for reading aloud at evening time to another book lover. I began reading 'The Secret of the Old Clock' to Spouse shortly after I found a used and antiquated copy in a thrift store. He found the plot gripping in a charming and timeless fashion.
The suspension of time is all too true, though, because I paused mid-sentence five years ago in California- and several homes and the width of the United States later, I have not had a chance to read the remaining chapters to my Spouse.
Somewhere out there, Nancy Drew awaits our command and is frozen, flashlight in hand, mouth open in perpetual moment of crooked discovery, ready for me to slide the book from its place on the shelf and begin again.

Time takes care of everything in its own way and books are no exception to that.


paulmerrill said...

I *love* the way you describe Nancy still waiting, frozen, for you to re-animate her.

tangobaby said...

A good book is a friend for life. You can come back to it years later and it will be like you never stopped. (Although you may have to remind Spouse where you left off.)

I read mostly non-fiction and avoid any fiction that is reviewed and hyped to extreme (aka Oprah's bookclub) because I am always nonplussed by the time I finish it. It's never as good as the hype.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Paul, thank you! I can really see her standing there. And unlike the recent incarnation of her, she won't have a cell phone in her hand.

Tangobaby, "Although you may have to remind Spouse where you left off."- that is so funny. We'll pick it up in no time.
I avoid anything- book or movie- that's hyped. I've been disappointed so many times. I don't think all reviewers even read the books before putting their accolades on them! I can't blame the authors, after all they do what they have to do, but like you I stay away from fiction too, for the most part. As a result, on looking at my bookshelves, I find that most of my favourite writers are long dead and that Oprah never praised them ;)

julochka said...

i had a book like that...pilnyak's "naked year," where i didn't like it at all on first reading (in a class on soviet lit), but then came back to it later and liked it. it wasn't for the same reasons as you, but perhaps the same at the base--we are a effectively a different reader every time we read something. that's why i love to write in books--to gain a glimpse of who i was when i read it before.

and as for nancy! i had forgotten about her! i was always sort of a trixie belden girl, and thought nancy was a bit stuffy, but i'm sure you're right that it's great read out loud. i'll have to try that. it is lovely to think of nancy, frozen there in time, waiting....

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

"we are effectively a different reader every time we read something."
I like that idea very much. Books change us, and we are changing anyhow, all the time.
Nancy was, I suppose, stuffy- but also polite and noble, and her stuffiness is the charm, I think. Her chirpy, over-the-top enthusiasm about everything is exactly why I like her and why it's perfect for reading aloud. It is like something from another time- not all old books sound so dated.

Barb said...

Ahhhhh ... Nancy Drew, what wonderful memories you bring back to me of childhood readings under my covers with a flashlight - just me and Nancy. I gave all my Nancy Drew books away to a neighbour and how I wish I had kept them.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Barb, there isn't anything quite like Nancy Drew anymore, and it's sad. There's something so safe and cosy about the books, that no matter how many adventures she has and how much trouble she gets into, Nancy Drew will always be okay.
I hope your neighbour appreciated the books! That would be some consolation, if you shared them with another person.

Jaime said...

Ah, would I love to be in a book discussion group with you! So insightful.

I never did read Nancy Drew books...I was buried past the eyebrows in the Little House books when I was young. I would love to read them again now and try and rekindle the memories I had of reading them.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Jaime, "I was buried past the eyebrows"- I love it! Great line.
Describes me as a reader too. I too like talking about books :)

polona said...

it's fascinating how some books need to be left for a while before we can fuly appreciate them.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Polona, yes- sometimes they get better with time, and sometimes worse! But it's often best to leave them alone for a bit until we can, as you say, appreciate them in a new light.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

yes, yes, very nicely put... I too have found that some times I'm not in the right state of mind to truly appreciate something ...

I'm most intrigued now about 'the book thief' ...heard of it but never have read it, I will have to put it on the ever growing list!

and that winnie the pooh - for a bear of little brain, he certainly is brilliant at times!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

You just have to love Winnie the Pooh. Disney destroyed him, I believe. The books are nothing like the films and that's a good thing.
They took the sage and wisdom out of the stories, I think. When I started reading Pooh last year I was shocked by how profound it actually was.
The Book Thief is very beautifully written but almost too much so.
Almost unbearable, but I can say I don't know another book like it.

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