There's more to reading books than good endings
The Biker's Diary
Monday, January 07, 2013 4:12 AM
Christmas is barely over when the news media turns its attention to recapping the old year. It wasn't a particularly great year, with enough misery that it had something for everyone.
I thought about that the other day as I was shelving books, finding the proper spots for the reading material that I have enjoyed over the past few months. It occurred to me that instead of reviewing my year in events, I could do it in great quotes. I have a habit of highlighting a nice "turn of phrase," or something particularly wise, or something that made me think.
So instead of immediately putting this latest stack of books away (where they will collect dust!), I paged through each to see what I had thought, at least at the time I was reading it, was worth remembering.
I actually have different books in progress for varying times of day or places in the house. I read when I am on the treadmill, and for that location, size of the book is important. It has to fit on the built-in book holder, and the print has to be big enough, plus it has to keep my attention so I will spend more time exercising.
My "serious reading" is for my reading chair in the daytime when my brain is a little more alert and another for the bookrack in the bathroom. And then the bedtime is for "junk reading," books for which it won't make any difference if I fall asleep in the middle.
Even books in the junk reading category sometimes provide some words of wisdom. The top of this stack that I was putting away was one from that group, and I have just finished it. It was Larry McMurtry's "The Late Child" in which he wrote "Fine people like Laurie gave up on perfection without giving up on hope, or the possibility of good times and things that were worth sharing." I liked that optimistic yet realistic outlook.
Jeffrey Deaver in "The Roadside Crosses" wrote about a contemporary problem due to technology, something which we see a lot in people's actions and even lawmakers' decision making: unintended consequences. The main character was thinking about something someone had posted online about another person: "All wrong, completely wrong...yet they would be in existence, on servers and in the hearts of individual computers, forever. People might see them five or 10 or 20 years from now. Or 100. And never know the truth."
Lately, I've been reading a lot of serious stuff about survival because it fits into my professional interests. And so I notice when there is a mention, by a fiction writer, of the ways in which people survive, or their coping mechanisms.
Betsy Carter's book "Nothing to Fall Back On" was a treasure trove of great quotes about optimism in the face of tragedy. At one point in the book, the heroine said that with the coming of spring, she felt more hopeful, and along "with hope came a shopping trip to Saks Fifth Avenue. Nothing speaks of possibility like a well-stocked shoe department." After all, I would have added, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping." She found a pair of shoes that she particularly liked: "This was fate at its most obvious; if I bought those shoes, my life would right itself again."
Nelson DeMille, in "By the Rivers of Babylon," also wrote about survival. "Did you ever wonder why the English stopped for tea at 4 p.m. in the middle of a battle? Or why they dressed for dinner in the tropics? Or why soldiers in combat have to shave every day. . . Morale. It's good for morale. (In a dangerous situation) we do everything in everyday ways...It will all follow from there."
Mark Bowden in "Blackhawk Down" (which I finally got around to reading) described another survival tactic: "They were in a familiar place, one they called the 'drone zone,' a point at which the body transcends minor aches and pains and grows impervious to hot and cold...," a zone they had trained for use in very difficult situations.
Then there were words, not necessarily "of wisdom," but about wisdom. They didn't arrive in a book, but came in the mail. My high school journalism teacher - Ray Pearson, who was also our principal - sent a large mailing with so much to read that it could have been a book. One of the many interesting things included was "An essay-rough hewn," titled simply "Wisdom."
In this short piece, he said that "from time to time I've mused about wisdom." And then he started by posing questions: "What would be a good definition? How does one acquire it? Why pursue it?...."
Since I read that, I too have been musing off and on as to what is wisdom. It would be easy just to say that I liked his thinking about it, which I did. But there might be more to add, so when I have been thinking about wisdom, I have been trying to come up with examples of wise actions, and then "back into" what that means.
I'm still thinking about wisdom, and also about all those other great quotes and examples I have read as part of the past year. And that's really what reading is about: to make us think. It's more interesting than rehashing a year's events that we don't mind having behind us.