Laudable Linkage

Here are a number of thought-provoking reads discovered the last few weeks. Perhaps one or two will be of interest to you.

On the Longing to Be Seen, Heard, and Known, HT to The Story Warren. “Wanting to be seen, heard, and known isn’t sinful in itself (it’s part of our human nature, given to us by God), but as with everything in life, sin has tainted it in a big way.”

Disturb us, Lord. Ouch.

The Ministry of Sorrow. “By facing trials in a distinctly Christian way, by ministering to others through their sorrows, by testifying to God’s light even in the deepest darkness, each of them has provided a testimony to God’s grace that has lifted many tired hands and strengthened many weakened knees.”

Grace as Deep as the Sea. “I want to scold the dad with his back to the son, ‘You can replace the net—you can replace a thousand nets!‘ But I know, deep inside, this has nothing to do with a broken net and everything to do with a broken life, a broken dream, a broken son, and a broken heart.”

Headlines. “Do you see how your perspective or focus can change the headline? Which view will you take in your particular trial?”

How Not to Debate Ideas in the Public Square, HT to Challies. “There will always be people who disagree with each other. That’s not necessarily a problem. And there will always be people who make bad arguments. That’s inevitable. But if we are interested in debating ideas (not just destroying people) and interested in persuading (not just performing), we will try our imperfect best to speak and write in a way that aims to be clear, measured, and open to reason.”

What If I’m Not the Best at Anything? HT to Challies. I think many of us can identify with this. I love his conclusion.

A Lesson to Learn as we emerge from the restrictions of the past year. HT to Challies. “Who do you instantly dismiss as being too gung-ho or too cautious? That is the danger for us in church over the next few months. The danger is a loveless fracturing of church unity. A dismissal of one another, a failure to love and bear with one another.”

“Putdownable” Books. Though this post is a review of Dickens’ Great Expectations, I love what the author said after seeing ads for books “you won’t be able to put down”: “But I want to take a moment and consider the books that are so good we have to put them down. I don’t mean books we put down and lose interest in—no. I mean books so beautiful we must linger over them, savor them, pause from time to time to reflect on a beautiful passage or perhaps write it down somewhere. These are the books we read more and more slowly toward the end, because we do not want to finish the last page and be left outside the world of the story. We do not want these books to end.”

I just discovered from Ancient Mariners, Psalms, and Prayers this article telling about a project to have different people read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. I’ve always thought that was one of the most dramatic poems ever. I’ve only listened to a few minutes of it, but it’s good! Here’s the first section:

The whole thing is put together here. On this list of the readers here, you can click on each name to hear that section.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Here are some of the noteworthy reads found this week:

An Executive Order Marginalizing Women and Girls, HT to Challies. “President Joe Biden’s directive subjects the liberties of women to the preferences of biological men.”

Strange Authority Speakers. HT to Challies. I am glad someone addressed this. Much of his applies to writers and bloggers, too.

Forgive: 7 Important Steps in Loving Well. “We think we have all the time in the world . . . until we don’t. Somehow, we believe we have time to make amends later, when we’re done holding onto hurts.”

Learn the Lesson of Aaron’s Oily Beard. I’ve often read those verses in Psalm 133 about unity among brethren being like the anointing oil that flowed from the priest’s head downward. I got that unity was good but had no idea what the oil had to do with it. This blog post was a light bulb moment.

Is There a Pattern to the Bible’s Miracles? “There are very significant characters in the Bible who seem to have passed their lives without experiencing a single recorded miracle . . . even the most extraordinary moments unfold in the fabric of normal life and providence.”

Somehow I recently discovered a series of poems read by actors. I found When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats touching. I had never read it before. I also enjoyed “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and Rudyard Kipling’s “If” read by Michael Caine.

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: Songs of a Housewife: Poems by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Some years I go I saw, somewhere, a poem that I really loved. I looked up the author and found she had written a whole book of them, so I got it, I think possibly from a used book seller on Amazon. But it’s hard to just pick up a book of poems and start reading through, so it sat undisturbed on my bookshelf for a very long time. Then one day I saw it and noticed the author’s name again, and thought it looked a little familiar. I looked it up, and …yes, the author of Songs of a Housewife: Poems by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, was also the author of a book I dearly loved, The Yearling. So that put the book higher on my to-be-read list! I finally put it on my desk, where I’d pick it up in between doing other things and read a couple to a handful at a time.

Rodger L. Tarr edited the book and explains in the introduction that the poems were originally in a newspaper column that Rawlings wrote in the NY Rochester Times-Union between 1926 and 1928. He includes a few pictures of the column, which sported the icon and typeset he used on the cover. It came about at a time when newspapers wanted to expand beyond just the news and provide entertainment as well. They were published mostly six days a week over two years until she moved to Florida, resulting in some 495 poems, about half of which are published in this book.

Tarr goes into a brief history of her writing career (her first story was published when she was eleven) and family life. She was writing feature articles for the newspaper when she proposed a weekly poetry column for women, particular housewives. Her editor was “skeptical at first” (p. 4), but finally let her try. The poems became a “cultural phenomenon” (p. 1). Sometimes readers asked her for a poem on a specific subject.

She explained her perspective in an interview:

I was brought up to believe in the modern myth that housekeeping is only drudgery, and the housewife is a downtrodden martyr. I thought that any seemingly contented housewives were only ‘making the best of it.’ When I first began housekeeping in my own home, I felt that I had entered the ranks of the mistreated.

After a time I began to realize, to my amazement, that I didn’t feel at all downtrodden, and that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I began to look at other domestic ‘martyrs’ from a new angle, and I have learned many things.

I have found that there is romance in housework: and charm in it; and whimsy and humor without end. I have found that the housewife works hard, of course–but likes it. Most people who amount to anything do work hard, at whatever their job happens to be. The housewife’s job is home-making, and she is, in fact, ‘making the best of it’; making the best of it by bringing patience and loving care to her work; sympathy and understanding to her family; making the best of it by seeing all the fun in the day’s incidents and human relationships.

The housewife realizes that home-making is an investment in happiness. It pays everyone enormous dividends. There are huge compensations for the actual labor involved…

There are unhappy housewives, of course. But there are unhappy stenographers and editresses and concert singers. The housewife whose songs I sing as I go about my work, is the one who likes her job (pp. 6-7).

She was writing at a time when feminism was coming to the fore, and she “was fully committed to a woman’s right to share equally in the workplace…Yet she also took the firm position that women who choose to stay home are also professionals” (p. 7).

Tarr divides the poems into six categories and at the bottom of each shares the date when it was originally published. They cover the gamut from cooking, family happenings, housework, friends and relatives, “philosophical nuggets,” and nature. Sometimes they express kind of a smiling frustration: usually they’re cheery.

The poem that started it all for me was “The Symphony of Supper-time”

I like the sound of silver
When the table’s being set,
In the early Winter twilight,
With the lamps unlighted yet.

I like to hear the kitchen door
Swing slowly out, and then,
When Mary passes, laden, through,
Swing slowly back again.

I like to hear the kettle sing;
The hissing of the roast;
The children coming in from play,
A hungry, noisy host.

I like to hear the murmurings
When my dessert appears.
The symphony of supper-time
Is music to my ears! (p. 35).

With so many poems so many days in a row, not all of them are winners. But I marked several that I particularly liked. Here are a few:

A Prayer for Housewives

Let me have endless patience, first of all,
And not grow weary when the quick doors slam,
Or when small fingers stain the new-washed wall.
Let me ignore the mud tracked o’er the jamb!

Let me be tireless, for the hours are long.
Let me be merry, when I want to weep.
And if my days may not move like a song,
Grant me, at night, the healing touch of sleep.

May I remember small, important things–
An empty cookie jar is such a crime!
Is it too much to pray at times for wings?
How else, some days, to have the meals on time!

And if there’s any fun to come my way,
Or any laughter due me, Lord, decree it!
And where there’s beauty in the every-day,
Oh, let me not be blinded! Let me see it! (p. 102).

“Mistress and House” begins:

A gracious mistress for this gracious place,
She moves in harmony with flowers and birds;
Her voice is gentle, filled with gentle words
And there is sunlight on her quiet face.

It ends with “She crowns its beauty with her womanhood” (p. 111).

In “Treasure,” she says she’ll let her son, Tom, off from chores for a bit because he’s deep into reading Treasure Island, and closes with

He treads the ground unseeing, starry-eyed;
Plays, eats and sleeps and studies in a trance.
His mind consorts with pirates and with ships,
In high adventure. He has found romance.

Not mine the voice to call him from the realm,
Where sailors’ parrots cry and silver gleams!
He has found treasure past life’s power to steal.
He’s keeping company, these days, with dreams (p. 155).

In “Aunt Ida’s Letters,” after discussing her “ramblings” and picturing what she looks like as she writes, she says:

And through her talk of life, and things,
The beauty of her spirit sings.
And when her letter-writing’s done,
There will be somehow less of sun (p. 156).

After describing “A Peaceful House,” she closes with:

I knock. And in the mistress’ eyes
The source of this sweet peace is seen.
Her love has made her calm and wise–
Her love has made this house serene (p. 191).

After discussing various aspects of dealing with “Old Clothes,” she concludes, “Old friends forgive old clothes, because/Friendship is never out of style! (p. 198).

After describing a host’s gracious “Hospitality,” she concludes:

But did you know these things material
Welcomed me less than those that have no form?
It was your kindness that was beautiful,
It was your spirit’s grace that kept me warm.

You called me friend. You made me one of you.
I was no more a stranger and apart.
You give to hospitality a clue–
Finer than open hands, the open heart (p. 226).

I could empathize with the last stanza of “Fooling Myself”:

I fool myself elaborately,
Some other line of work pursuing.
I seize each task so eagerly–
Except the one I should be doing!

Tarr says that to Rawlings, “Nature is a representation of God’s favor, although God as a concept seldom enters directly into her poems. Instead, she relies upon faith, which she sees as a transcendental force that runs through nature. There is a large element of Thoreau in Rawlings….Nature is divine, or at least a reflection of divinity” (p. 11). I would disagree with that view of nature, believing instead that God created it and it points us to Him (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-23). But I didn’t really see that philosophy reflected in the poems about nature included here. Most of them just show a pleasure in and enjoyment of nature.

A few of her poems would not be politically correct today. In one ode to her cook stove, she calls it her “black slave, humble and low” (p. 123). Some are a little gossipy. In one, she asserts that, just like in poker, “A full house beats a pair” at home, meaning that a home full of noisy children was better than “quiet, childless homes” with their “sedate and stupid choices” (p. 117), odd since she had no children of her own, but made up one for the persona of her columns.Maybe she regretted not having children – or maybe she was just catering to the way she thought her audience would feel. But it seems more than a little insensitive.

Most of her poems, however, bring a smile or a moment of thought or sweet reflection. I can imagine eagerly looking up her column in a newspaper each day. The quiet, kind, serene “mistress of the house” she portrays in many of the poems make me want to be more more like that kind of homemaker. These may not be the highest form of poetry, but for the most part they convey truth, beauty, perspective, understanding, and fun, a worthy goal of any artistic expression.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Wise Woman, Literary Musing MondayCarole‘s Books You Loved)

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Love Through Me, Love of God

Love through me, Love of God;
There is no love in me.
O Fire of love, light Thou the love
That burns perpetually.

Flow through me, Peace of God;
Calm River, flow until
No wind can blow, no current stir
A ripple of self-will.

Shine through me, Joy of God;
Make me like Thy clear air
That Thou dost pour Thy colors through,
As though it were not there

O blessed Love of God,
That all may taste and see
How good Thou art, once more I pray:
Love through me—even me.

~ Amy Carmichael

It’s October!

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October’s Party
by George Cooper

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came.
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples,
And leaves of every name.

The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses maple
In scarlet looked their best.

All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.

autumn-light

 

October’s the month
When the smallest breeze
Gives us a shower
Of autumn leaves.
Bonfires and pumpkins,
Leaves sailing down –
October is red
And golden and brown.

—Author Unknown

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October leaves are lovely
They rustle when I run
Sometimes I make a heap
And jump in them for fun.

— Author Unknown

(I usually try to give credit for where the pictures I use come from, and I try to limit them to free sites. Most of these have been in my files for a long time and I am not sure where they originated, except that the top one was made with the Word Swag app.)

 

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Book Review: Beyond Stateliest Marble

I first “discovered” Puritan poetess Anne Bradstreet in a college American Literature class, and loved her work. I focused on her for one of my 31 Days of Inspirational Biography series a couple of years ago. So when I heard there was a good biography of her life, I put it on my Christmas “wish list.”

Beyond Stateliest MarbleI finally got to it this past month: Beyond Stateliest Marble: The Passionate Femininity of Anne Bradstreet by Douglas Wilson. The title comes from a quote by Cotton Mather, leading preacher of the day, saying that Anne’s poetry provided a “monument for her memory beyond the stateliest marbles.”

In all honesty, I spent the first 3/4 or so of this book being aggravated at it for what it lacked as a biography. It took that long for me to realize it’s not really a biography. Wilson says near the end it’s a tribute to her. It’s part of a “Leaders in Action” series, so it’s presenting that aspect of her. And the great bulk of it is a treatise. So once I realized and acknowledged those things, I was able to relax and take it for what it was.

One of Wilson’s biggest purposes in writing the book (what I called his treatise) is to defend against two erroneous suppositions: that the Puritans were dour, repressed, cheerless, unimaginative, legalistic people as a whole, and, 2) that Anne was anything but a thoroughgoing Puritan. Many modern treatments of Anne will portray her as a closet feminist, or an anomaly, or as having written such bright poetry in spite of her setting and position as a wife and mother rather than her Puritans beliefs, community, and calling as a wife and mother being the springboard from which she wrote. I do believe these misunderstandings at best, or false accusations at worst, do need to be shown as mistaken and wrong, and this book does a very good job of that.

The book is divided into three parts: her life, her character, and her legacy. The chapters are generally thematic rather than linear. We do get some of Anne’s background in the first section: the kind of family she grew up in, the times and setting, her marriage to Simon Bradstreet, their decision to sail from England to America, the voyage, the adjustments for a cultured woman in a non-settled area, her children, and her writing. She had no intentions of publishing her work, but her brother-in-law took copies of her poems and had them published in 1650 in England under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (or, to be exact: The Tenth Muse, lately Sprung up in America, or Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight, Wherein especially is Contained a Complete Discourse and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year, together with an exact Epitome of the Four Monarchies, viz., The Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman, Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasand and serious Poems, By a Gentlewoman in those parts.)

It was well-received, to say the least, and her poetry has been well-read ever since.

The second section deals with about 30 different character traits (each chapter focusing on one and only about three pages) with Wilson illustrating those traits in Anne’s life either through her poetry or others’ comments about her. And the last section contains four chapters dealing with her legacy.

Though I appreciated what I learned about Anne in this book, overall I felt it contained too much of Wilson and not enough of Anne. I know that “show, don’t tell” is a mantra of fiction rather than non-fiction, but I felt Wilson spent too much space telling his opinions about Anne and what he thought was right and wrong and not enough of showing her through her own writings. I also didn’t like his tone, which I felt was condescending towards those he disagreed with. He faults others for the broad brush strokes with which they portray the Puritans, but then he does the same towards other groups. But most of the reviews I perused on Goodreads voiced high praise for this book, so don’t take my word for what I consider its problems. Maybe our personalities just don’t mesh: in his chapter on humor, I didn’t think anything he brought up as an example of humor was remotely funny (for instance, he says that when Christ brought up to the woman at the well in John 4 that she’d had five husbands and the man she currently had was not her husband, that he was teasing her [p. 163]. I don’t think Jesus would tease people about their sin, and she certainly didn’t seem to take it as a joke.)

However, I do agree with him that Anne is a worthy subject, and that the Puritans were not what people think of them today, and that Anne was content as a wife and mother within a conservative Christian setting and wrote from that setting contentedly, not rebelliously.

One quote of Anne’s that stood out to me was in reference to her children: “Diverse children have their different natures; some are like flesh which nothing but salt will keep from putrefaction, some again like tender fruits that are best preserved with sugar…Those parents are wise that can fit their nurture according to their nature.”

Though some of her poetry’s subjects include theology and even the Queen, my favorites are the ones dealing with her walk with God, and her home, and family. I’ll close with my favorite two:

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow’d his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

___

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

31 Days of Inspirational Biography: Anne Bradstreet, Puritan Poetess

 Anne Bradstreet has been one of my favorite poets since I first “discovered” her in my college sophomore American literature class. She and her husband and her parents emigrated from England to America in 1630 with other Puritans. Her heart and spirit that shines through her poems refute the premise that the Puritans were dour and humorless. She was one of America’s first poets and the first women to have a book published in the United States. She hadn’t sought publication herself, but her brother-in-law collected some of her poems to have them published under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts. Feminists like to claim that she was an early feminist, since poetry writing and publishing was outside the norm in that time, especially for Puritan women, but the content of her poems would contradict feminist leanings.

Probably one of her most well-known and favorite poems is To My Dear and Loving Husband, which begins with the lines, “If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.” Another of my favorites is The Author To Her Book, which begins, “Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain…”  By Night While Others Soundly Slept touched my heart with her seeking communion with her Lord late at night:

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow’d his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

A few years ago my friend Bet pointed me to one of Anne’s poems with which I was not familiar, Verses Upon the Burning of Our House. The title clearly states the subject. The first lines describe the surprise and fear of finding her home in flames with earnest prayer for the Lord’s comfort. Job-like, “I blest his grace that gave and took,” and she acknowledges God’s ownership of all she has and His right to do with it as He will.

Yet she begins to grieve for the special, precious things lost, the particular familiar and treasured bits of a woman’s nesting instinct.

My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best,
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.

Then she reminds herself of the impermanence of treasures here on earth and “sets her affection of things above“:

Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide:
And did thy wealth on earth abide,
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished
Stands permanent, though this be fled.
It’s purchased and paid for too
By him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by his gift is made thine own.
There’s wealth enough; I need no more.
Farewell, my pelf; farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love;
My hope and Treasure lies above.

Often as I have read older stories and biographies I’ve been struck by how closely they lived with loss. We have fires, floods, and such now, too, of course, but such catastrophes happen much less often now due to safety factors implemented as a result of previous disasters. Yet even though materials things may last longer now, they still won’t last forever, and our treasures are best laid up in heaven.

A lot of modern online biographical sketches of Anne’s work tend to view her through a modern, biased lens rather than taking her work at face value and in context. Some see her as rebelling against her community and religious restrictions, but she was truly using her artistic gifts to express her faith rather than to rebel against it. One recent article I saw described her as ambivalent about her faith. I had never seen any ambivalence in her poems that I had read. I sent one such link to my friend Ann, who teaches about Anne in her high school English classes and knows much more about her than I do, and asked about the perspective. One of the poems quoted as “proof” in the article in question has this section:

Then higher on the glistering Sun I gaz’d
Whose beams was shaded by the leavie Tree,
The more I look’d, the more I grew amaz’d
And softly said, what glory’s like to thee?
Soul of this world, this Universes Eye,
No wonder, some made thee a Deity:
Had I not better known, (alas) the same had I.

Ann comments, “She’s saying that nature is so beautiful that she could be like others who do worship nature, if she didn’t know better. The fact that Cotton Mather praised her says volumes, as he was a leading Puritan preacher. I think Anne Bradstreet was a strong Christian and the author of this article is trying to weaken that testimony to fit her own purposes.  Yes, that’s from my own biases – but believe the evidence of her life and writings fits that model better.” Ann also recommends Beyond Stateliest Marble: The Passionate Femininity of Anne Bradstreet by Douglas Wilson, which I had not heard of before but have put on my wish list.

I’m thankful and inspired that Anne used her poetry to reflect not only her love of home and family but of her God.

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

Book Review: How to Read Slowly

How to Read SlowlyI don’t remember how the book How to Read Slowly: Reading For Comprehension by James W. Sire first came to my attention, but it caught my eye when it did. I didn’t want to change my reading speed necessarily, but I did want to learn how to retain more from what I read, especially non-fiction (stories seem to stay with me longer and better with less effort). Even with marking quotes, using sticky tabs to mark the most important passages, and sometimes even outlining the chapters, I still tend to forget a great deal. Even though this was a book about comprehension rather than retention, I figured the one would aid the other.

I had not known Sire was a Christian when I bought the book, but right at the beginning he states that though this book would be beneficial to any reader, he primarily wanted to encourage “Christians to think and read well. Christians, of all people, should reflect the mind of their Maker. Learning to read well is a step toward loving God with your mind. It is a leap toward thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (p. 12). To which I say a hearty “Amen!”

With both instruction and example, Sire shows how to detect an author’s world view, how to read “between the lines” while not “inventing or imagining what is not really there” (p. 42),  how to “track the flow” of author’s argument or reasoning process. He has a whole chapter on poetry, another on reading fiction, another on reading in context (not imprinting our current way of thinking on older books, but understanding the context in which they were written). He gives tips for how to read, what to look for, what to mark, and encourages a lot of rereading. He talks about the difference between reading nonfiction and imaginative literature.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me:

What is the primary reason for reading poetry or any imaginative literature? Beyond all psychologizing as to real or apparent motives, we read literature because we enjoy it — and we enjoy it because we are grabbed by it, our attention is arrested. We say, “Aha! Yes, that’s how it is.”

In great literature — poetry and fiction — we see ourselves, our friends, our enemies, the world around us. We see our interests portrayed in bold relief — our questions asked better than we can ask them, our problems pictured better than we can picture them by ourselves, our fantasies realized beyond our fondest dreams, our fears confirmed in horrors more horrible than our nightmares, our hopes fulfilled past our ability to yearn or desire. In literature we catch reality in a mirror…

Life is short, but art is long. Sophocles is dead, but Oedipus lives on…Each of us when we read a great piece of literature is a little more human than before (pp 58-59).

Well-wrought poems and works of imaginative literature can do for us what stone-cold prose can never do. They can help us grasp the full dimension of ways of life other than our own (p. 86).

Our ability to read well depends to a large degree on just how clearly we understand ourselves and how much we realize ours is not the only way to look at reality….I am not saying we ought not to disagree with anything we read. Indeed not. We must disagree if the thrust is in opposition to what we take — after reflection, study, and prayer — to be the truth. But we must also be sure that we have “heard” the other person as he or she wishes to be heard (p. 141).

We have more to fear from naivete with regard to error than we do from clear knowledge of error that we recognize as error….A knowledge of the truth is the best defense against error (p. 146).

One thing the Bible does not do: it does not denigrate the mind. The Bible is not anti-intellectual. Rather it gives the reason why all of us know what we know, why we can think with some degree of accuracy, and why we fail to think with complete accuracy (p. 148).

Every avid reader struggles with the sheer amount of good books on our shelves that we haven’t gotten to as well as the ones we see in stores or online or recommended by friends. Sire says, “We will never catch up. But we can get on with it…Reading does get done. The point is to start and then to read well. How far we get, how many books we read, must not become the issue” (p. 155).

I don’t know if I would say that I enjoyed the book – it’s not something I’d pick up for fun. But I did benefit from it. It feels a little like high school or college English class in some places (not surprisingly, Sire taught English literature and philosophy at various colleges), but I liked classroom English, so I didn’t mind that aspect of the book. The section on the mechanics of poetry got a little technical for me (I had not known, or else had forgotten, what a spondee was), but I appreciate his illustration that even the meter and rhythm of a poem illustrate its message. I just don’t know how many people are seriously going to count syllables and abab cdcd the rhyming lines outside of a classroom unless they’re really into poetry. But that’s the only part that went a little overboard (for me. Someone else may have found it fascinating). This is a book I would highly recommend for anyone interested in the subject.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)