Sunday, October 28, 2018

Great American Read Books #4 and #7

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer have proven very difficult to obtain! I don't like doing things out of order, but that's just how it has to be sometimes. The same idea applies to many other things I don't like doing such as paying student loans or working every day/night of the week, but whatever. I think being slightly irritated most of the time makes me a better writer. Or a better drinker.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

There were two books I refused to read in high school----Great Expectations and this. I didn't read Great Expectations because someone I hated in 10th grade English always monopolized the conversations we'd have in class about it (and obviously anything she liked was poison) and I found it difficult and boring, which is fair, even now, for Dickens. A Separate Peace was apparently assigned sometime along the way, but I do not remember anything about it, whose class it was for, or even opening the book, ever. In high school I loved reading and often enjoyed the classics they gave us, but there had to be something creepy going on in order for me to actually read it and think about it (i.e., teenage love + suicide in R&J, ghosts and betrayal ala Hamlet, clever murder as in The Landlady or The Lottery, or all that sub-textual male whoring around going on in The Grapes of Wrath). I'm quite well-read now of course, but never forget that I went from Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume directly to V.C. Andrews and Stephen King. Apologies to all of you who are now backing away slowly, but it's the truth.

To return to the point, I would not have had the attention span in high school to read about two 1940s-era teenagers, athletic vs. nerd drama, and the threat of World War II--at that time there just wasn't anything for me, an insufferable brat, in a story like that. But for an adult (or a more mature teenager than I was), there is actually quite a bit worth reading about and I think the book is an important one. There are wonderful moments of nostalgia that happen when main character Gene revisits his old prep school, beautiful language used to describe items such as the school's gym (and its smells), alpha male Finny's ideas and enthusiasm for life, and the natural world that surrounds the boys throughout the various landscapes (the lakes, the tree, the grounds) which pose a different kind of danger than the ever-present war. It's about jealousy, worry, and regret---all very common, very human reactions during the coming-of-age years. I'm glad this was on the list and very much enjoyed reading it although the experience had a very lamenting feel and wasn't at all happy.


The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho


This was what I wanted from Rhonda Byrne's The Secret so many years ago----less on the money obsession and more on experience! It's a very easily-read, very simple narrative of a young shepherd who has been inspired to seek adventure and follow his dreams. The story suggests that every aspect of the journey of life, even the struggles and the negatives, contribute to the overall path of finding the PERSONAL LEGEND. Everyone's personal legend is different, so as the story goes, results will depend on what you want to achieve (although let's face it, few of us would say no to any sort of monetary gift in these troubling times). To unpack a little further: If we, as readers, apply this to ourselves it means that everything that has happened to us was designed to 1., teach us something about our own personal legends, and 2., bring about action or change that further inspires us to follow and achieve our personal legends. To disregard the personal legend or to ignore the signs that God or The Universe gives us may lead us down a path more challenging, but the idea is that the personal legend wants very badly to be realized in each of us, and God or The Universe does everything possible to keep showing us how to achieve it and corralling us back to the proper path----we just have to be paying attention. Implicit in this philosophy is the idea that we are responsible for our own fates but also that beauty and opportunity can be found in unexpected places and among the random people we meet (in other words, my very favorite idea: everything matters).

I realize that allegory might not necessarily be everyone's cup of tea, but the message is a positive one and the story is interesting and well-written so I believe that regardless of belief systems or religious affiliation, it can still be widely enjoyed. It was featured in the young adult section at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, and it made me wonder if that particular population is actually open to this kind of story. My kids seem to get the most out of books they are assigned in school or the ones I insist on reading to them out loud. In both these instances, they are required to provide some sort of proof that they've absorbed the story and can comprehend what's happening (school = tests and homework, me = asking them each in turn nerdy questions about the content); it would be interesting to hear their thoughts on this story, although I already took it back to Augsburg. I enjoyed this book very much, but more than that I enjoyed the idea of it and hope that we, as both readers and people, can all still appreciate this kind of innocence and hope. It seems in very short supply these days.



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