Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twenty-Six

The Book Meme Challenge: A book that changed your opinion about something

There are several difficulties about answering this.  One is that, as I much prefer fiction to non-fiction, my typical reading is not (for the most part) attempting to educate or persuade me.  Insofar as the books I read do change my opinion, they do it so gently that I can hardly point at a moment and say “Look!  I used to believe A, but now I believe Q, and here are the liber and page responsible!”  More customary is the sense that the author has drawn open a door, and passing through it will bring me to realizing things and seeing aspects of the world hitherto unknown, unthought, unexplored.  But even that sort of illuminating education doesn’t really seem to refer to changing my opinion from one thing to another.

Therefore I have two short answers which shall be replaced if something better comes to mind.

An Experiment in Criticism – C.S. Lewis

The purpose of Lewis’s experiment was to discuss how books are often categorized, by critics or otherwise, as “good” or “bad” books, and how it might be valuable to look at the matter in another fashion; therefore he examines how different groups read books.  The “unliterary” read a book but once; they do so merely to pass time and put the book down easily; they are not changed by what they read; and they do not exactly understand the “literary,” who will reread and reread books, who feel impoverished when they’ve not been able to read recently enough, who come to interpret life through the lens of the various books they have read and discuss them all.

When I first read this book, I was one of the top students of my high school, and therefore thought myself rather well-read compared to many of the other students.  It even may have been true – but what I’d failed to understand was how little that actually said about my literary expertise.  This essay took a pin to that vanity, asking me “Yes, but how do you read?  What is your regard for those things on your shelf?”  And of course I had to answer that many of them had become for me a closed book, unnecessary, checked off the list forever.

So now I am pondering the third list for Day 23, the list of Books to Revisit, lest I neglect stories which might become great friends, and lest the books themselves come to be mere pages and colored paperboard.

How to Lie with Maps – Mark Monmonier

This is a book that has changed my opinion second-hand, which is to say that the book changed my opinion because my brothers read it and discussed it with me.  The premise, as it was presented to me, is that maps necessarily lie or leave out part of the truth, if only because they could not include everything and be useful.  Imagine a map that showed political borders, topography, national roads, landmarks, bird migration patterns, and average rainfall (a drop in the ocean of subjects that a map can display).  It would be difficult to see any one topic of interest; therefore mapmakers make several specialized maps instead.  Not only so, but they must keep updating them, for country names change; borders are pushed back and forth; rivers are diverted or dry up altogether; and man-made structures crumble, to be repaired or left to decay as they will.

Does this seem obvious?  Very well, it is obvious.  But it illuminated for me that fact that information graphics, or statistics generally (so often regarded as very sturdy and factual and therefore dependable), cannot of themselves tell the whole story.  Any reduction of our three-dimensional lives to something fit on a screen or paper will, of necessity, drop dimensions out, and the man who decides what information to include decides what story he is telling.


2 thoughts on “Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twenty-Six

  1. Maps have always fascinated me–I could stare at a detailed world map for hours. The sites, the secrets, the people that are on every land! I’ve a feeling that book could alternately be titled “How To Tell Stories With Maps.”

  2. Pingback: C. S. Lewis Read-Along: Post Master List | Pages Unbound

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