Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Sleep

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 3: I Keep Falling Asleep

There are a number of wonderful books which, though highly recommended, I have not finished because I fall asleep every time I try to read them.  Even when I’m not reading in bed, I fall asleep: I curl up in my chair, I melt into the couch, I lie on the floor like a cat.  This probably indicates that I don’t get enough rest at night, but perhaps it also indicates something about my reading material.

kitty sleeps on book

Some might think falling asleep indicates the book is dull.  I think it mostly reflects the reader’s (lack of) wakefulness, blood circulation, and attention span; it’s not necessarily the book’s fault.  Thalia and I discussed the fact that though Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture is beautiful, lucid, and interesting, we conk out after a few pages.  My theory is that the ideas are heavy.  It’s like trying to balance a number of well-cut rocks.  You can follow where the reasoning goes, but you also have to carry where you’ve been with you, as though you were trying to pick up a road as you walk on it.  That’s the heavy bit, keeping all those premises in mind, and it exhausts my brain.

Leisure the Basis of CultureOrthodoxyStudies in WordsFrankenstein

Presumably this is also why I fall asleep reading Orthodoxy and, to my shame, Studies in Words.  Possibly I made my attempts at both books in a severely compromised state, since by all rights I ought to have read and loved them by now.  It’s why I never finished my Intercollegiate Studies Institute Reading (work by Kirk and Burke, oh my) or Frankenstein (which still waits on my bedside table for me to return to it).

What books have you fallen asleep reading?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Don’t Have It

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 2: I Do Not Physically Have the Book

As excuses rational explanations go, this one’s pretty airtight, assuming one does not have an e-reader (I do not).  No words, no reading.  That means, of course, that it isn’t one of the myriad titles available on Project Gutenberg, Google Books, or similar online sources.  But then, a lot of books were published too recently for that sort of internet hosting/availability, because copyright.  In which case the actual, physical book must be obtained, and the following potential obstacles surmounted:

    – I’m saving up for it – Sad, maybe, but often the case, especially with textbooks, beautifully bound volumes in used bookshops (all the sets of Austen, Dickens, Doyle, et cetera), and Absolute Sandman Volumes 3-5.  You walk through a bookshop thinking “I’m sorry!  I wish I could take you ALL home, but I can’t!”  Which is responsible of you.  Fret not.

Until I see you again, my dears...

Maybe next paycheck, my dears…

    – I have the money but forgot which title I was looking for at the bookstore – This kept me from SO MANY BOOKS.  It prevented my beginning the Dresden Files for awhile.  I think this is also the reason I haven’t read A Prayer for Owen Meany, as well as other books which, astonishingly, escape me at the moment.  My friend Reneé once gave me a book journal so this wouldn’t happen, and I do use it, but it mostly means there’s one more place for the titles to be other than my head.

This place is HUGE. It must have EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED.

- I remembered the title BUT they didn’t have it - Prevented me from getting some Chesterton, Sayers, and Walker Percy along the way.  I think I eventually gave up on big-box bookstores because their target market is just…someone else.  Someone who is really, really interested in board games, financial planning, and self-improvement.

What...no, this isn't what I wanted.This isn't what I wanted at ALL.  I'm gonna grab my coffee and go.What…no, this isn’t what I wanted.  This isn’t what I wanted at ALL.  I am gonna take my coffee and go.

    – I know it’s in my house somewhere… – Dang it, I swear I don’t need your copy of King Lear.  Or Murder on the Orient Express.  I really do have my own!  Why can I find two copies of Murder Must Advertise and none of Whose Body?

    - It Isn’t In My Library (not even via ILL or MelCAT!)  – Since I live in Ann Arbor, this has happened when I’ve looked for particular religious books or conservative thinkers.  Look for Martin Luther and you get Martin Luther King, Jr.  Seek out John Henry Cardinal Newman and you get a single book of essays (which, on one hand, is 35 essays I ought to read; still, a scant offering).  Gene Veith’s work is on MelCAT but not the A2 catalog.  On the other hand, let it be noted that Ann Arbor has a surprisingly wide range of Wendell Berry!  He must appeal to the home-grown locavores etc.

    – It Was Due Back At The Library – I got close to getting somewhere with Golden Apples of the Sun, a complete volume of MacNeice’s poetry, Parade’s End, etc., but then someone else requested it and I had to cry surrender.  I have not yet mustered the will to demand them back.

Have any of these fates befallen you?  What titles are you currently seeking at the store/library/hidey holes in your house?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Introduction

The Egotist’s Club was not necessarily founded to be strictly a literary blog.  Sure, we love Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter enough to own them as godparents of sorts, and we do read, write, and talk about reading and writing a great deal.  But we also blog about the movies we watch, our observations of society, food and drink, music, and craftsmanship.  Anything pertaining to humanity is fair game: its feats, its fascinations, and its foibles.

And yet…we have, perhaps, given ourselves a rather bookish reputation.  This creates certain impressions, such that every once in a while, there comes a conversation wherein a friend will edge near me, glance about furtively, and then confess that she never got all the way through Lord of the Rings.  Or he’ll say “You’ll judge me for it, but I never did read all of the Narnia books.”  Or “I know everyone’s read it, but I just haven’t finished Hamlet.”

Then I have to tell them how after reading The Hobbit, I started The Lord of the Rings, got to Bree, and stopped.  And then I started again, got to Weathertop, and stopped.  I started again, got to Moria, and stopped.  There was just so much walking, guys.  Eventually I was a sophomore in college, where (seemingly) everyone loved Tolkien with an undying passion, and I had that exact same anxious twinge because I had never made it all the way through.  It came to pass that I befriended the Scrupulously Exact Physicist, who, on hearing this confession, urged me to repentance, saying “You have to read them!” (and moreover, penance: “And then read The Silmarillion!”)  Have been so commanded, I finally muscled through the entirety of  Fellowship, and in fact the entire trilogy – partly by reading during an extremely dull class; never let me claim that Science 101 profited me nothing.

My point is, sometimes you just haven’t read a book, or you feel like it’s too late for it, or sometimes you try reading it and then stop, and far be it from me (or from any of us, really) to make you feel bad about that.  I think the xkcd approach is the best to take:

Randall Monroe, you are totally right about the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Randall Monroe’s right: it’s cool to be around the first time someone picks up that book you love so much.

So this week is for confessing the ways and reasons we are the antithesis of a book club.  To wit, this is the week we (or, well, I, at least) tell you Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet.

Feel free to join in!

Mel’s Meme: The Seeds of Society

In his book Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper lays out the founding of what we have come to know as “culture”. It was only when men did not have worry about every meal, when every moment was not spent securing the livelihood of a people, that they could begin to spend time – leisure time – studying.

And, eventually, creating. Art can only happen in a society organized enough to have leisure.

And this is my introductory excuse for having poor taste. When I looked deep, deep into my psyche, I discovered that my instinctive grabs would be;

Plato’s Republic,
&
Aristotle’s Politics,
&
De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

I am horrified.

I loathe politics. In fact, it might be rated up there with chickens.

In my most cynical moods, I tend to reject all forms of government.

But I do trust education. And maybe if every person in this surviving culture read about politics, it might work!

And the first thing to that a dispossessed society needs in order to stay a culture, is a working organization.

A system of government, if you will.

And it needs people who can think clearly and reasonably about the purpose and organization of government. It need both the information and the wisdom passed down through the ages, what Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead”.

The purpose of government is to serve the people: humans do not exist to serve the government. So yes, there are books that – as I have in the middle of exploring – make us human.

But if the world as we knew it suddenly ended and we had to start anew, it would be important not just to preserve the beauty that was but to rebuild lives, society, and culture.

John Adams, in the throes of organizing the fledgling United States of America, deftly describes this basis of culture in a letter to his wife.

My Dear Portia—

Since my arrival this time, I have driven about Paris more than I did before. The rural scenes around this town are charming. The public walks, gardens, &c., are extremely beautiful . . . I wish I had time to describe these objects to you, in a manner that I should have done twenty-five years ago, but my head is too full of schemes, and my heart of anxiety, to use expressions borrowed from you know whom. To take a walk in the gardens of the palace of the Tuileries, and describe the statues there, all in marble, in which the ancient divinities and heroes are represented with exquisite art, would be a very pleasant amusement and instructive entertainment, improving in history, mythology, poetry, as well as in statuary. Another walk in the gardens of Versailles would be useful and agreeable. But to observe these objects with taste and describe them, so as to be understood, would require more time and thought than I can possibly spare.

It is not indeed the fine arts which our country requires ; the useful, the mechanic arts, are those which we have occasion for in a young country as yet simple and not far advanced in luxury, although perhaps much too far for her age and character. I could fill volumes with descriptions of temples and palaces, paintings, sculptures, tapestry, porcelain, &c., &c., &c., if I could have time ; but I could not do this without neglecting my duty.

The science of government, it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation, ought to take place of, indeed to exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

Adieu.

Thus concludes the excuse. I would like to have found that my heart of hearts wants to preserve Homer, or Shakespeare, or Dante. I believe that those are the books that teach us best what it mean to be human.

But no.

I suppose it is hope that makes grab political training manuals rather first.

Because if the Cylons do come destroy Earth and we must begin anew, I want to reach the point of culture as quickly as possible so that the new Homers, Shakespeares, and Dantes have a chance to create again.

Epic Meme Saturday: A Fairy-Tale Honeymoon

A book that I would bring on my honeymoon. Oye jehmoie! I don’t know if I would bring a book on my honeymoon. At least, not any of the books that changed or formed my life. Those books are so very important that I would either read them with my beloved before we married, or take longer over them than a honeymoon would give (for reading at least). Books of such importance should not be kept waiting.

If I ever get married any and all books on my honeymoon would have to be of the sort that are meant to be read by a fire and under the stars, so that would include …. Patrick McManus books!

Though those are not quite as romantic as I might want. So maybe not…maybe G.K Chesterton’s Fr. Brown mysteries, they are thrilling and enchanting; perfect for snuggling up before a fire! However, there is one drawback to those stories; they are never shallow (not the drawback, I am coming to that…) and some times they are quite deep! That is the draw back! Although it is a requirement to think deep thought and have deep discussions with my new spouse, I think not right before bed (which is when you have fires) because I would be too busy being comfy. So perhaps that would be a better travel-book.

Arra, this is harder than it seems!

Alright, last possibility is fairy-tales! But not just any fairy tales, because I can only listen to so many of Andrew Lang’s stories without going to sleep (though that might not be a bad thing), so they must be special and exciting! That leaves me with Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories! They are witty and charming, just right to right to read and giggle over and rambunctiously enjoy!

Perfect!

Mel’s Meme: The Bookshelf Overfloweth

I am very late.

I know.

I am sorry. I have no excuse, other than simply being an all-round despicable being.

So, after a quick perusal of my bookshelves – and deciding that owning three copies of each Austen novel doesn’t count – I must admit that the author by whom I own the most books is none other than Terry Pratchett.

This is partly because Pratchett has written so many books. I love Austen, but the entire sum of her work amounts to a very small finite number. Had she written 80 books, I would have them all and happily allow her to dominate my bookshelves.

Pratchett, on the other hand, can easily overrun a bookshelf. I did discuss this plenitude in last year’s meme, as my “Favorite Series“.

Pratchett is a skilled wordsmith; his work abounds delicious puns, linguistic oddities, and fun sounds.

Pratchett does not underestimate the intelligence of his reader; he plays with the genres and tropes, and bends, twists, and finds loop holes the laws of the worlds that we know, from physics to conventions.

Pratchett is a creative genius; the plots and narrative structures that spew forth from his strange mind are amazing.

I enjoy Pratchett. He amuses me. I adore his quirky characters.

And occasionally I enjoy the heart of his books. Going Postal? All about the virtue of hope! Thud!? An interesting dialogue on the personal responsibility of civic leaders.

But there are some issues with Pratchett. (The Other Egotists covered them pretty well here.) He tends towards preachy. With a decidedly, annoyingly liberal bent. Thud! also has strong overtones of “Lectures on Racism”.

Some people object to the extension of word to include spoof of basketball and rock music, rather than staying within the world of fantasy and fairy tales. But frankly, I find the willingness to include all aspects of the world charming,and Pratchett handles his subject with a light, humorous, and punny touch. And as much fun as the fantasy genre is, there is more to world than that.

And the way that Pratchett borders on Mennippean Satire thrills me to the very cockles of my cynical old heart.

Epic Meme Saturday: Best (Love) Story

Yuck! Mushy love stories!? Gross.

Pull a random “romance” from the dark and frightening caverns of a library’s paperback fiction section and it very scary. Though, to tell the truth, I have never been able to actually read a whole one of this type through, I pull it off the shelf and see the cover with a beautiful woman on it and a man without a shirt and with rippling abs and I cannot bring myself to open it!!

No thank you, no books about love for me.

You see, what I object to in books about love is that you can’t set out to make a story about love. Love does not work that way! For, although it is the very reason for our existence and should be the reason behind every action, it is not so simple that it can be reduced to The King’s Daughter, who loves perfectly and always succeeds, not is it so earthy that the man with rippling abs can explain everything about it. There has to be more to the plot that love.

(Except for the Bible, that is the ultimate love story without being smarmy, but then, that is God for you. Only He can show love perfectly.)

However, good wholesome adventure stories which happen to have true love in them are quite lovely! Take the story of Conan and Anne, in The Red Keep.

As a young boy in Medieval Normandy, Conan saves the life of a young girl, the daughter of the Lord of the Red Keep (a castle made of red stone), as she is left for dead among her slain family, she is taken back to castle of Conan’s lord and there she grows up, always dreaming to reclaim her fief. While Conan, whose only ambition is to become a knight, is completely oblivious to her hopes and dreams, and her growing love for him. (Though I was never sure why she would love the idiot he was in the beginning). Then something happens to turn his world upside-down and he is faced with challenges and choices that help him to grow from being as cocky boy to a wise and competent young man.

Finally, at the very end he realizes why he fought so hard against his enemies, why he fought for something that was not his own; it was because through her eyes he was shown something good and desirable, something that was larger than himself. And on her part, Conan gave her hope in a hopeless situation.  He gave her something to relay on other than herself, and in this way made her gentle and not the fiery little wild-woman that her red hair implied.

This story is not about love, for most of the book they are not even together! it is a story about life, it is a story about friendship, it is about courage and honor, deceit and treachery, it is about adventure and secret tunnels!

But it has love in it (as life does) as a purpose. And it is the life in the book that makes the love real, not the other way around.

Mel’s Meme: Best Love Story

Literature, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, does not reduce reality but gives us a higher sense of what is real. In particular, love stories might not be the most true to the “reality” of this current world.

Knights in shining armor rarely appear on the modern landscape.

One look across a crowded room does not often result in a life long romance.

And few men can woo their ladies with beautiful song, dance, or poetry.

But we hold up these ideals of love not so that we are disappointed with our own prosaic lives, but so we can recognize the full beauty of Love as it was meant to be.

So when a love story exists as reality, all hope is renewed.

 

The Love Story:

John and Abigail Adams.

 

I cheat. I know.

But hey, their letters are published in a book! And, they most certainly a story, albeit a slightly quieter one than in fiction.

Therefore, I will maintain that they are part of the literary tradition. Their letters are beautiful, and definitely part of the American literary canon.

I was dithering about trying to choose my favorite fictional loving relationship – everything from Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion to Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado - and could not make up my mind. But a then a friend posted a selection of the Adams’ correspondence, and their romance struck me afresh.

These letters, written while Abby was at home with the children at Braintree John was either riding the circuit, away in Boston for his law practice, attending congress, or being an ambassador to France,  convey a glimpse both what amazing people they were individually, and how well they suited each other and made their relationship work.

Miss Adorable

Without dramatics or extremes – other than a revolutionary war and the subsequent creation of Country and Government –  these two created one of the most beautiful love stories in both history and literature. Through the medium of day-to-day concerns and discussions and even something like arguments, their tender, intimate, sweet, respectful love for one another is immediately apparent.

Their relationship is not centered around themselves, but their personal union is a source of stability, joy, and grace for the people they know, from their neighbors to their children.Indeed, these personal letters reveal their biggest plans for the future of their beloved new country. Their love for each other radiates outward into a love for the world, and practical plans to make that world better.

Their letters reveal a mutual concern over the country and its formation, and frank discussion of necessary freedoms and reforms. Abigail gives a compelling argument for more freedom for women in this new country! And John has marvelous ideas not only for for forming  a government, but forming a flourishing culture.

They both worry over the mortal and immortal care of their family, and spend time developing a course of education for their children. And not just the course of study, but how to make the children fond of their readings. John wrote,

“The Education of our Children is never out of my Mind. Train them to Virtue, habituate them to industry, activity, and Spirit. Make them consider every Vice, as shamefull and unmanly: fire them with Ambition to be usefull—make them disdain to be destitute of any usefull, or ornamental Knowledge or Accomplishment. Fix their Ambition upon great and solid Objects, and their Contempt upon little, frivolous, and useless ones. It is Time, my dear, for you to begin to teach them French. Every Decency, Grace, and Honesty should be inculcated upon them.”

The sentence, “My dear, it is time you began to teach them French”, just kills me with its casual endearment, absolute assumption of ability, and complete trust. I cannot wait for the day that my husband remarks, “my dear, it is time we began to teach the children Old English”.

And the  sweet chiding and teasing and endearments between the two! Abigail opens a letter with the rebuke, “I wish you would ever write me a letter half as long as I write you!” and lists all the information that should like to receive. John drily replies, ” You justly complain of my short Letters, but the critical State of Things and the Multiplicity of Avocations must plead my Excuse” . . . an refers her to pamphlets he has enclosed.

They can share every worry and thought, exchange news and discuss how it applicable to their lives, from concerns over the state of the farm and state affairs, to sharing the latest studies on child development. They remark on their readings and experiences, sharing what they have studied, thought, and learned. They both have an appreciation of beauty and joy that seems to have been nourished by their association with each other. Their discussions and shared experiences brought to the fore those aesthetics and virtues needed in so young a country.

They are both friends and lovers. They have the kind of best relationship, where they work together and truly share their lives.

The affection between them is clear through every subject they discuss and in every tone they use. John’s endearments for Abigail are at once teasing and sweet, from “Miss Adorable”, to “Portia”. And Abby return with intense and lively description of home life, including her husband as much as possible despite his absence.

Their love, while singularly bereft of heroic rescues and grand adventures or gestures, is perhaps best exemplified in these simple, tender, and beautiful letters.

To me, it is the height of romance that John can address a letter simply to, “Dearest Friend”, and close with, “I am, with the tenderest Affection and Concern, your wandering John Adams”.