The Wood Between the Worlds

Libraries are a sanctum to book lovers everywhere.  A library is a place where words are respected.  Where the full spectrum of literature is displayed.  And where anyone can access the greatest masterpieces of the written word.

You can imagine my shock when I recently searched in our local library’s catalog for John Keats’ Endymion and received a “0” in the search box.

My library does not have a copy of Endymion.

This, my friends, is travesty.  Nothing short of literary travesty.

John Keats was a master of the English language, his work ranked with Shakespeare and Milton.  I assumed that every library would have at least his major masterpiece.  But my library does not have Endymion.  Not even any excerpts.

This is not the first time the library has disappointed my expectations.  Apparently, our county system no longer owns a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, unless I want to listen to it on MP3 Audio Files.  Indeed, it seems that if I want Ray Bradbury material other than Fahrenheit 451, I will have to listen to it.  And the list of disappointments goes on–

The most famous book by Elizabeth Goudge?  Sorry, but they do stock her more obscure books.

Young adult non-fiction you’ve scoured the library for?  Oh, that’s mixed in with the adult non-fiction.  Right, I knew that.

And the fines for returning items after hours.  I hang my head in shame.

Perhaps, I just have high expectations for my library.  Perhaps I just want to be able to walk in to any location and find the book I seek.  (Project Gutenberg doesn’t have everything, you know.)  Why can’t every good book be available at every library?  Why can’t I just read the name of a book and have it magically whisk out of the library and appear in my house, much like how Mo reads characters out of their own books in Inkheart?  Why can’t all libraries be as amazing as the library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast?  Why can’t the words come alive with moving pictures like the magic book Lucy reads in Voyage of the Dawn Treader?  Next to fictional libraries, real-life libraries can look rather wimpy.

So as I meander through the stacks, I may weep at the lack of some beloved favorite or regret the absence of a literary masterpiece.  I may even cry “Treason!” when Keats has been neglected.  But in the end, I forgive my library.  For all its imperfections, the library is still a magical place–“the wood between the worlds” as in The Magician’s Nephew–a conduit between taxing reality and the most incredible, adventurous lands.  When you step through library doors, you enter a passageway where entire worlds, dormant and still, await your fingers to open them.  Don’t let the brick and mortar walls fool you.  On each shelf is a new book and a new world.  On your journey through that new world, you will grow and change, perhaps encounter a villain or two.  And when you come safely back home, you will be different than when you began.

That, my friends, is amazing.  Keats or no Keats.

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High Society Spring

Proserpine’s a debutante who
comes out every year.

Waiting, Ceres cloaked
in  February wraps
frets and wrings the heads
off new-picked daffodils.  This
should be a happy evening, but
Pluto glowers in the darkest
corner, upset at having
only the first waltz.

Proserpine, a debutante,
greets the audience in silence.
A child laughs.

Ceres, pale with motherly
concern, turns her frosty face
on the puerile guest–who
is promptly escorted out.

Proserpine curtsies
and debuts in high society
a different way each year.
As the conductor’s wand sparks
the music, Proserpine with
pearl necklace glowing
dances more lithely than
nymphs in seawater.

With a sigh of relief, Ceres
slowly releases her grip
on the slender glass.  French
doors sweep open and people
of importance in greens, blues,
and gold mingle like the colors
of a summer sunset.

Proserpine shines in
the twilight stars and Ceres
smiles like roses blooming.
The evening’s warm and
Ceres, content with the stirring
elm trees, sheds her satin cape.

 

Proserpine’s a debutante who
comes out with the spring.

The End of the Summer Reading List

Well, summer is officially over.  I’ve replaced the last book on my summer reading list on the bookshelf and return to college.  There was drama.  There was ordinariness.  There were retrospective memoirs, horrific dystopias, and gothic romances.  For three months, I made friends with pioneers, 10 year-old boys, British governesses, anarchists, clergymen’s daughters, cursed New Englanders, and Dorothy Gale.  I’ve visited train stations, the summer house, penny arcades, the moor, the parlor with Alice’s piano, a western soddy, Bath, Northanger Abbey, the Kingdom of Ev, and even Oceania.  Shoud you ever wish to visit these fantastic places, here is the list of where you can follow my adventures.

Summer Reading List:

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Murder in the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
May B.  by Carol Rose Starr
The Inventions of Hugo Cabret by Brian O. Selznick
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
1984 by George Orwell
Persuasion by Jane Austen
House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Next summer I hope to revisit Narnia, drop by Neverland, make an excursion into the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald, delve into Roethke’s greenhouse, and continue my trip through Austenian England.  You do not have to be Silvertongue from Inkheart to bring characters to life.  All you need is imagination and an open book.

Lost in the Pages of a Book…Sort of

I sat four inches away from my computer screen, lifting my eyes up to dart around the room.  No one in the small crowd of students taking tests needed help.  I could continue reading.

“You pierce my soul.”

The words of Captain Frederick Wentworth pierced my own soul as I read through his confession of love to Anne Elliott.  Just as Anne had been re-united with her beloved Captain Wentworth, three students came in needing to take tests.  Sigh.  Back to work.

While I’m normally very busy at my job, the nature of my job creates moments of down-time where I need to do some quiet task.  Bookworm that I am, I’ve chosen to fill those down-times with reading.  Searching the archives of Project Gutenberg, I have found a remarkable number of books I always wanted to read but never could find.  (When was the last time you found Walter de la Mare short stories at your local Barnes & Noble?)

I’ve never been a big proponent of e-books.  For a while, I was as stiff-necked as a hard-bound book in my opinion that e-books were degrading to read.  Well…perhaps I didn’t think they were truly degrading.  But I feared that the world was going all electronic and the beauty of the printed word on a piece of paper would vanish, leaving me with infernal touch screens.

But slowly, I began to soften my stance as I realized the benefit of e-books.  After all, an Amazon Kindle weighs a lot less than my bookshelf does and I can’t carry a bookshelf onto an airplane.  And now, for the first time in my life, I have read an entire e-book–The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton.  I was actually disappointed with the book, but pleased I was able to finish the entire work in e-format.

If you’re familiar with Project Gutenberg, you know the typewriter font style and set-up is far from aesthetically pleasing.  But they have a wonderful variety of rare books for free.  And I couldn’t resist reading a little Chesterton and de la Mare on the computer when finding them in print is next to impossible.

So  I have decided to forgive e-books.  I’m not ready to buy a Kindle…or a Nook…or an iPad…or even a smartphone.  But a place that allows book lovers to read masterpieces in the public domain for free can’t be too evil.  Individual books may become obscure, but Project Gutenberg helps them live on.

(They should hire me.  I could write them great taglines.)

Check out the other works I’ve been reading on Project Gutenberg:

“The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Gold Bug” by Edgar Allan Poe
“Seaton’s Aunt” by Walter de la Mare (believe it or not, it was creepier than the two Poe stories mentioned above)
“American Fairy Tales” by L. Frank Baum
“House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (just started it yesterday)

What have you all been reading this summer?

Is It Interesting Yet?

I decided last semester that, for being a writing major, I am far too ignorant of literature classics.  So I determined to read some masterpieces I’ve put off in the past.  At the top of the list was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, alias Currer Bell.

The story intrigued me since I first watched the 1944 movie adaptation with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.  I own a vintage copy of the book printed in the 1890s.  Hardly an original, I know, but still a nice find for $5 at a flea market.

Since I love the story, I figured reading the book would be a pleasant challenge.  But for the last two summers (maybe three) I have tried to read the original work…and failed.  Miserably.  The first summer I made it through chapter 3.  The following summer I completed one more chapter.  All in all I progressed no further than Chapter 5 of Bronte’s great masterpiece.

Therefore, when I unexpectedly finished my stack of library books before their due date, I chose to start Jane Eyre the next day.  I am now halfway through.

And it is finally interesting.

I read six masterpieces of literature in sixteen weeks last semester including works of Home, Virgil, Ovid, and Dante.  I read four books within the first two weeks of being home.  And the first 240 pages of Jane Eyre has taken me four days.

I wanted to be riveted.  Really I did.  But Jane’s depressing narrative of her oppressed childhood at Lowood drained my interest faster than water through a spaghetti strainer.

The entrance of one character changed it all–Rochester.  Rochester entered the story and the drama began.

I am currently at the part where Mason has been shot and taken away to heal at the doctor’s house.  Whether the rest of the book will be as exciting remains to be seen.

I guess it doesn’t help that I already know the ending.

Happy Summer Reading, everyone!  What’s on your reading list?

Your Curious Blogger,
Specs

You Know You’ve Read Too Much T. S. Eliot When…

T. S. Eliot.  You can’t deny that this brilliant, albeit intellectually snobby, banker was one of the greatest poets in the English language and of the 20th century.  But you gotta’ admit.  Getting into Eliot can drive you to the point of insanity.  And once you’ve passed that point–once you discover the structure to The Waste Land, or the underlying metaphor in “Sweeney Among the Nightingales,” or the fact that Eliot’s poetry explores meaninglessness over and over and over again–you realize this reserved Anglo-American writer is quite fascinating.  However, you will quickly recognize too much Eliot is definitely too much of a good thing.  Here are a few warning signs you’ve been spending too much time with T. S. Eliot.

1.  You start over-quoting The Tempest.
2.  You can’t leave Starbucks without pausing to solemnly say, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.”
3.  You find your first grey hair and decide to wear your trousers rolled.
4.  You realize you can compare people to all sorts of unflattering animals in wildly poetic diction.
5.  You feel compelled to make all your written communication reflect musical structures.
6.  Rain becomes a BIG deal at all times of day, month, and year.
7.  You start taking sides over the possible optimistic/pessimistic end of The Waste Land:  Team Thunder and Team Sosostris.
8.  You immediately respond to mobs of people with “I had not thought death had undone so many” and realize you’re also overquoting Dante.
9.  You start dreaming scenes from Dante’s The Divine Comedy set in 1920s England.
10.  You spend every second of the interminably long Hamlet directed by Olivier criticizing Hamlet for his indecision.
11.  You find yourself writing about fragmentation in all your other college courses.
12.  When running late, you tell your family, “HURRY UP, PLEASE.  IT’S TIME.”
13.  You obsess over hair.
14.  Sirius becomes your favorite constellation
15.  You find yourself humming “O. o. o.  That’s Shakespeherian Rag.”

Happy poetry reading.

Bull’s Eye: Just a Little Bit in Love with Archery

I have never been good at sports.  Never.  My brothers used to play basketball and football with me but I never caught on.  The games normally ended with my getting hit in the face with the ball and going inside.  And like any good little sister, I normally cried.  In PE class, I just didn’t get it.  Even in youth group, I was always among the last to be chosen on a team.  Sports just isn’t my thing.

On the other hand, I love archery.  There are few things I like more than taking my bow and three flimsy arrows outside and spending an hour shooting at my own makeshift target.  Am I any good?  Mmm….no.  But it’s nonetheless enjoyable.  I love the precision–the calmness–the quiet of the sport.  (Though I’ve done it with friends and that’s fun too.  Nothing like having heart to hearts while piercing an Animal Cracker’s box with blunt-headed arrows.)  In addition to the quiet atmosphere, I enjoy the workout.  Yes, archery can give you a workout.  My own bow is a 15 lb. draw, which means that each time I pull back an arrow I am doing 15 lbs. worth of work.  Not exactly a Jillian Michaels workout, but it’s something.  Besides all that, archery is just fun.

And I’m not the only one who enjoys archery.  A fictional hero with a bow and arrow is always intriguing.  Yet, sadly, archery isn’t a popular sport.  We laud it in the exploits of onscreen actors like Orlando Bloom sliding down the steps at Helm’s Deep shooting nasty Orc warriors, but few people actually become involved in archery.  Perhaps it isn’t very practical for most people.  I myself haven’t been able to do any at our new house since we’ve moved.  We are now much closer to our neighbors…and their small children and their big dogs…than we were at our old house.

Nonetheless, archers are some of the coolest characters in books and movies.  And here, in no particular order, is just a sample of the greatest fictional archers:

Robin Hood:  What list of great archers could leave off this semi-historical, mostly fictional hero immortalized by Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).  He’s got a great smile, a sense of justice, and green tights.  If you are looking for a romping collection of Robin Hood stories, you can check out the ever amusing books of collected tales by Howard Pyle.

Artemis:  This Greek mythological goddess can be interesting at times and even laudable in Homer’s tale ofTheIliad.  Her fierce and warlike persona are a welcome change to Aphrodite’s scheming.  However, Artemis’ Roman alter-ego, Diana, is slightly freaky and mean and weird.  Not gonna’ lie.

Susan and Lucy Pevensie:  Any Narnia fan knows that Lucy actually does more in battle than Susan, but Susan has the awesome bow from Father Christmas.  In the movies especially Susan gets to do most of the archery.  And since these sisters are two of the most well-loved in all children’s literature, they deserve a place on the list of great fictional archers.

Legolas:  Let’s be honest, how many girls never gave archery a second thought until The Fellowship of the Ring came out?  Legolas, despite his lack of lines, is a pretty cool character.  I had a hard time liking him though because two dear friends absolutely adored him merely because of Orlando Bloom.  However, I grew to tolerate him because he was an archer.  And yes, I confess that he is cool in the book too.

Murtagh:  I confess.  I’ve only read the first Eragon book.  But Murtagh is still pretty cool in it.  Yah, I know he kinda’ goes bad later and yet kinda’ doesn’t.  I don’t really know how that works, but he’s a good archer as is Eragon himself.

The Black Arrow:  This mysterious hero created by Robert Louis Stevenson is a very intriguing character, but hardly as interesting as the two main characters of the book, Richard and Joanna.  It’s a good book–The Black Arrow–you should check it out.  It lags a little in the last third, but it’s worth it.

And I’m sure I’m forgetting some really good ones.  And there are three new archers coming to the big screen this summer:  Katniss in Hunger Games, Hawkeye in The Avengers, and Merida in Pixar’s Brave.  I don’t know whether they will live up to the precedent set by other great fictional archers, but perhaps they will give a boost to my favorite sport just in time for the summer Olympics.

Have a happy archery-filled summer.

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