Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reading, both Non-Festive and Festive

My leisure time has become a bit disjointed. We've been watching holiday stuff via Hulu and Netflix; last night, for example, we watched an old holiday episode of Silver Spoons. And when I'm not watching holiday fare, I've been racing through Laura Lippman's heart-pounding thriller I'd Know You Anywhere.

I don't usually read thrillers, especially not when the plotline revolves around young girls held captive and/or hurt. But this review in The Washington Post convinced me to add the book to my list. And then I read Leslie's review and wanted to read it right away; but the public library waiting list was very long, and I didn't want to buy a hardcover book that I was pretty sure I'd only be reading once. So when I found the book on my school's library New Book shelf, I snatched it right up. And finally, this week, I read it.

It's a different kind of thriller, much more a personality study--of several different personalities--than a standard thriller. There is a subdued rape scene, but it comes at the end, and so it seems less horrifying and less exploitive than it might have otherwise. It was an effective book, and I wished that I knew someone else who had read it.

In that spirit, I returned to Leslie's post, and I was surprised and delighted to remember that it was a post about the power of words, particularly the book review.

Today is a great day to reflect on the power of words. Over on my theology blog, I've written a post about Nicholas Kristof's The New York Times article where he tries to convince us to spend our gift giving dollars on worthy charities. He makes a solid case. But of course, I was already convinced, so I'm maybe not the best judge.

In 1776, Washington's army was not convinced of the righteousness of their purpose: morale was at an all-time low. On this day in 1776, Thomas Paine published the first of his important pamphlets, with those famous words: "These are the times that try men's souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper prince upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated" ("The American Crisis").

These words kept the Continental Army going, and on December 26, they won an important victory at the Battle of Trenton. Who knows, if not for Thomas Paine, perhaps the war would have taken a different turn.

Here I could insert a pep talk about why it's so important to remember the power of the word and our writing. I could write a mini-meditation about how no other person on this planet has the kind of unique perspective that we have, that we've been put on the planet for just such a time as this, and we need to get busy creating our art.

But if you're reading this blog, I suspect you already know all that. You're already convinced. But perhaps you're tired. Maybe like me, you've spent the week-end grading the last papers, some of which remind you of your worth as a teacher, some of which make you wonder if you should exert the effort to uncover the plagiarism. Maybe like me, you've been suffering from a cold that leaves you with such sinus pressure that you wonder what an aneurysm feels like and makes you think of your colleague from almost two decades ago who complained of headaches when she was grading research papers and you thought it was only the poor quality of the student essays, but 3 days into the holiday she dropped dead of burst blood vessels in the brain. With all that pain in your head, you can't possibly return to poetry just yet.

Luckily, there are lots of holiday shows that you can watch for free. Cue up one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol today. On this day, in 1843, that classic by Charles Dickens was published. Think about how that book has changed the world. Think about all the works, both serious and comic, that make allusion to A Christmas Carol. If you need a writing prompt, you might have some fun with this classic. Imagine Ebeneezer Scrooge going back to school, either as a returning adult student or as adjunct faculty. Imagine that Bob Cratchit gets a promotion and now he's the boss. Tiny Tim, all grown up.

If you're in a reading mood, you could finish this book in an afternoon. You might be surprised how different it is from the many movie and television varieties. Or if your brain is oatmeal mush at this point, just watch one of the versions and enjoy this ghost story, a tale which Victorian England would have read as a thriller, much the way I read Laura Lippman as a thriller first, personality study later. A Christmas Carol still has much to teach us. But if we're not in the mood to be taught, it's entertaining nonetheless.


Kathleen said...

Very inspiring, as always, and I was thinking about Dickens this morning. Haven't seen one of the Christmas Carol films yet this year, but that's a good idea!

Kathleen said...

Plus, of course, reading it! Readily at hand.

And I have a little booklet of Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales out on the coffee table, too. My dad likes to read that one aloud every year at this time. One year we made a little film, a thriller, in which we attempt to murder him while he continues blithely to read on, accidentally killing ourselves off in various ways... To return to your thriller theme at the beginning! And now you know about our wacky family.

Sandy Longhorn said...

The Paine excerpt is a pep talk in itself. I esp. needed "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." A good reminder about writing as well as freedom from tyranny. Thanks.

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

i am in the middle of great expectations, a book that hits the dickens spot, another epic book of dickensian dimension, and of course, trying to draw out the Mason so it doesn't finish too quickly.
i love that Paine excerpt; those are rich words indeed!

Hannah Stephenson said...

I've been book deprived this week and last week due to grading and moving. I always like finding books to read that can set the tone for the upcoming year...better than resolutions, I think.

Kristin said...

Happy Reading, all. I'm about to make my book list for 2011--I agree, much better than resolutions.