Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You are what you read, like it or not

Time stops when you read books about the past and, better yet, written in the past. Sorry, but I am biased beyond belief about the quality of books now when compared to then. Some notes regarding a couple of the books in the photograph: Mari Sandoz is a woman I could not agree with philosophically, but is one I would worship for her strength and intelligence. "Old Jules" centers on her father. "Pine Ridge 1890" is nonfiction about the battle at Wounded Knee (I refuse to call it a massacre because of the causalities on both sides), and consists of first-hand newspaper accounts written from the battlefield. Live it, breathe it. The books balancing on top are among those written by O.E. Rolvaag. His novels are about Norwegian immigrants to the U.S. a century and more ago, any one of which is worth a dozen of the typical novels published today. This I do not think, rather, this I know. You are what you read.

Once upon a time, men were & so were women

It rather surprised me the other day when people started rattling off the names of their "favorite living" poets. I did not think that many people actually read poetry these days. (Well, I guess I still do not believe many people read poetry; but, instead, a "very select" crowd comes to visit me who actually are seekers and searchers.) Neither did I think there would be many (maybe not even any) who had a favorite living poet.

No one seemed to disagree with me, however, that the predominant form of poetry today seems to be found in musical lyrics.

Reflecting further on this, I realized that I no longer have a favorite living novelist, either. I always have been hard to please, says he, not at all facetiously. Norman Mailer probably qualified as my last living favorite (unless I have forgotten someone still here among us), although 20 years ago he would not have been at the top of my list. Basically, he got there by being the last man standing. Other "more favored" writers were around back then.

Most novelists I read are well established. Many fall under the category of writing "literature" as opposed to "popular" stories. Some few, I think actually fall into both categories. I am more and more into reality the older I become, although science fiction and historical fiction were once among my favorites, and I still dabble with them now.

Five or six years ago, I began concentrating on reading books written during or about the last 50 or so years of the 19th Century and the first 50 years of the 20th Century, with the focal point being those closest to the year 1900. It was as much a research project as a reading exercise. I wanted to know, through books, what it would have been like to live during that time frame. Without a mechanism for time travel, books are all we have to accomplish that sort of a "jump."

Among novels, I read Jack London beyond what I had during college. More (all) of O.E. Rolvaag and most of Ambrose Bierce. I became acquainted with Mari Sandoz and Willa Cather. Reading their novels and others spilled over into reading biographies of the authors, which spilled again into reading travelogues of journeys in America by the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry M. Stanley.

Most people (then again, maybe not) probably have heard Stanley's famous quote, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" which he made upon locating the Scottish missionary in Africa. Few know (well, I have been wrong before) that he traveled in frontier America in places like Kansas and kept a journal. Will Bill Hickok and General George Custer are a pair of the contemporary gentlemen of whom he wrote while touring America during the magical era of the latter 1860s.

Such was the tip of my reading iceberg. I assume you get my drift. With mountains of material from which to learn how things once were, why spend much time on the popular fiction of today? Especially for a history fanatic like me? I already know today. I am here, and am perfectly capable of doing my own interpretation of now, thank you. Give me what I do not know.

Somehow, I do miss not having a "favorite living" poet and a "favorite living" novelist. It is a most difficult role to play, being he who is hard to please. Still, I am not so sure the blame about not having a favorite rests upon my shoulders alone. It might be the inevitable result of the actual quality of the writers and the publishers of today.

When all is said and done, so what? I am a reader, not a blind follower. This should be the role each of us should play. No matter what I say. No matter what anyone else says. Pick up a scent and get onto the trail. Find your own books, just as you find your own life.

Music Note: Listening to a Christian band, Stryper
Specifically, "To Hell with the Devil" ....
Some lines from "Calling on You:"

Inside of me there is a lonely place

Sometimes I just don't know it's there
But when I'm all alone
That's when I have to face...

The part of me that needs someone
To be by my side that's when I call on...

You, You make my life complete
You give me all I need
You help me through and through
I'm calling on you

I can't explain just what You do to me
My love grows stronger everyday
You give me love, You give me company
And when I have to face the rain
You bring sunshine into my life


TheChicGeek said...

Good Morning, Fram :) I like your picture with the books...very nice.

Alas, I have not read any of your books :(

I read mostly Romance, Poetry and Mystery. Does that mean I am a mysterious and poetic romantic? LOL....Maybe so...
I like your song too. It's very pretty :)

Rachael Cassidy said...

Ahhhh reading. It truly does take you back (or forward) and place you in whatever era the subject matter is. As a young girl, I read the Little House on the Prairie series over and over-yes, fictional, but I was LIVING as Laura during those times, barefoot in the prairies, riding warm barebacked ponies and fascinated with the "Injuns." As a teenager, I became mystically enamored with Richard Brautigan, and later, Tom Robbins. Both fictionally based. Historical fiction has always been a favorite, as well as the random book on plants and their uses outside the garden. Lately, I have caught up on some oldies but goodies- A Sand County Almanac among them. That book so completely takes one back to the first 50 years of the 1900's- the way the land WAS before man's claws were sunk too deep in it.
When I read of the earlier times, I feel a tug in the pit of my tummy, a yearning in my soul for a simpler life. Yes, living would be very hard work, but the rewards?? Sometimes I wonder if the rewards were greater then.....
Anyway... I've recently delved into some fantasy-fiction, a lady author named Robin Hobb. I have been lost in the Farseer trilogies, and happily so-- had the though yesterday that they'd make a fantastic movie franchise....hmmmm screenplay ahead of me?? Probably not.
Friend Fram, once again, a parallel aspect of our lives.... :)

Katy said...

Unimaginable, a world without books - also the perfect mobile entertainment device :-)

I read a lot, although in recent times probably much more non-fiction than fiction in the order of about 5:1. Often have several books on the go at the same time too, and always have one in my handbag for spare moments in the working day.

Of book types, well no particular themes I don't think. I've read a lot of popular science / economics over the last few years (Blink, Tipping Point, Freakonmics, Critical Mass, Sway, things of that ilk). Of fiction, I tend to favour contemporary writers and crime novels for pleasure (although have just started William Golding's 'sea trilogy' with Rites of Passage, which is set in the 1800s, unusually for me).

But always open to suggestions; I think I mentioned already that I've managed to track down 'Onion Field' that you referred to ina post a few weeks back, and that's now on my to-read pile as well!

Rachael Cassidy said...

You know what frightens me? Those electronic "readers" like the Kindle. I will never ever own one of those... To me, there is nuttin' quite like the feel of a book in hand, the flutter of the pages between my fingers, and the SMELL of books... OOOOHHH the smell- older libraries are the BEST for that!!!

Fram said...

For sure, you are a mysterious and poetic romantic, Kelly.

If I were to suggest one book for anyone and everyone to read from this time period, it would be "Giants in the Earth," by O.E. Rolvaag. Through it, you live and breathe the life of a 19th Century homesteader family on the Plains. It is a marvelous novel.

Fram said...

We have one book in common here, Rachael. I read "Sand County Almanac" a number of years ago. One family among my ancestors settled in Sauk and Dane counties, Wisconsin, in the 1850s before some moved along over into Minnesota in the 1880s.

There are so many attractive periods in time in which to have lived in the past, from my point of view, that I do not think I could pick one any more than I can pick a location where I want to live forever in these times. But, maybe I am getting closer to doing that.

I could go for a Kindle while traveling, for nights in a motel or flights on an airline, but otherwise have no use for them. In fact, such "gadgets" will only hasten the demise of actual books, I think, just as the internet is bringing on the end of actual newspapers.

Fram said...

My reading interests have bounced all over the map, Katy, but my latest has lasted longer and expanded more than other previous topics.

My only adventure in Golding's work is the one you might imagine, everyone's favorite. Let me know how you rate his sea stories.

"The Onion Field" will certainly provide you with a nonfiction taste of the life of coppers, of murder and of mystery. I hope you enjoy it.

Magdalena said...

Hi Dear Fram! :-) I've been here and I will be back again with my coffee :-) See you then! :-)

A Cuban In London said...

I suppose I agree with you post title, which is another way of saying that I DO agree with it. We are what we read although sometimes we do step outside our comfort zone, at least I do. Norman Mailer... hmmm.. polarising, that's the first word that came into my head. I read 'Tough Guys Don't Dance' many years years ago when I was in uni and I liked it.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

The Fabulous Diva said...

Ahhh Sweet Fram,

First you tempt me with guns, and now books, you know the way to a lady's heart.

I love reading, and I will look up those titles that you have mentioned, I always carry at least a paperback book with me, when and where I travel, on the bus, on the plane, on the train although this last time was hard, I enjoyed the view.

A long time ago a question was put to me, if I was stuck on a desert Island all by myself and could only have three books, what would they be?

I thought for a bit and said The Bible, The complete works of Shakespear, and the Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes.

The Bible (Reems-Douay edition)--for spirit and strength

The Works of Shakespeare --for the mind, philosophy and the human condition

The Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes for companionship (If I can't have Sweet Fram to "talk to" I guess Sherlock will have to do)

No matter where I lived I always had those three books.

I've ventured into other works from Plato to Robert Louis Stevenson to Dashill Hammitt to Louie L'Amour and many historical, non-fiction and fiction works in between. And I always look for more.

Right now I'm reading a book by the late comedian George Carlin.

My Friend Lillian and I are going to a Friends of the Library Book Sale this weekend, who knows what delights I'll find.

Where do you find your books?

Fram said...

What kind of pastry do you like, Magdalena? I will start keeping some on hand to go along with our coffee. Thank you, for your visit.

Fram said...

Just remember, CiL, Mailer was on the top of my list for a while by default, not by acclamation.

That said, he was just as much a social critic, a political dilettante and office seeker, a brawler, a drunk, a philosopher in certain ways and a womanizer, as he was a writer. What's not to love?

He wrote a few decent books, a couple of which were literary landmarks at the time of their publication, which is more relevant, I think, than how he is viewed today. At one time, everyone in America knew who he was and everyone read him.

"An American Dream" is my personal favorite, although most people would register it low on their list of memorable books.

Thank you, for your visit.

Fram said...

Well, Diva. I was beginning to wonder if you had run off with a boy in blue. It has been a while. Too long.

Your "desert island" selections sound like winners. There have been at least three times I have decided to read the Bible, and three times I failed to complete even Genesis. What can I say? I think I have read all of Shakespeare's plays, some of them a few times, and his sonnets. As for Sherlock, only a few of the short stories. I need to work there. Like you, I have copies of these three only a few feet away from me.

Where do I find them? Mostly through the internet these days, through places like Abebooks, Alibris, Bookfinder, eBay, any number of university and private publishers. The internet is a fantastic means to obtain books a century or more old at a relatively low cost. I also still look carefully whenever I enter an antique store.

Very glad to see you out and about again. I hope you make it more of a habit.

Magdalena said...

Mmmm... The most chocolates and ice-cream. And also proud desserts as tiramisu or chocolate layer-cake :-) Mniam, mniam... Now I will come even more often!!! :-))) Thank you, Dear Fram, and leaving your place fulfiled with polish sun :-)))

Fram said...

To borrow from Ernest Hemingway, Magdalena, we will enjoy a moveable feast.

Something special ....