Thursday, January 30, 2014

Some of Your Best Teachers Were Books, Some of Your Favorite Books Were Your Favorite Teachers

You've given considerable thought to how past events in your life and, to some parallel extent, individuals in your life have influenced the way you respond in present-day situations.  You've even carried these thoughts and reflections to include your tastes and preferences in all manner of things such as music, food, and, yes, even books.

There is little surprise for you in the greater tendency to like persons who've read and had the same reaction to books or particular foods or music.  Nor is there a surprise that thoughts of certain musical composers cause you to think of the individuals who suggested them to you.

At one time in your life when you were not all that happy with your circumstances, your surroundings, or your behavior, a friend sent you in the mail a massmarket paperback edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, with a note suggesting that if you were to read this book, you would not behave like such an asshole. 

He was so correct in his assessment, to the point where you think of him often for recommending a book with such transformative powers, and you think of the book whenever you feel the gnawing need to be, once again, transformed.  You may not find yourself behaving like an asshole, but you are aware of a need for some guiding, transformative force.

Whenever you hear the music of Antonin Dvorak, say his B-minor Cello Concerto, or the Symphony in E Minor, the Ninth or New World Symphony, you think of Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008),   a clarinetist and saxophonist who'd made his reputation with Woody Herman before you met him on context with Shorty Rogers and his Giants.  Giuffre set you to listening to the music of Dvorak and of Frederic Delius to the point where you thought you could hear their tonal and thematic influences in Giuffre's playing.

When you find yourself confronted with a croissant and a glob of strawberry jam, you think of the novelist and short story writer, Judith Freeman.  Only this week, when you had occasion to consider the differences between fluffy and hard matzo balls, which cause you to think of your father, who had marked preferences for the hard.

With all this as back story, you cannot help wonder if the individuals you've met in your reading have influenced some of your tastes.  Now that you think of it, Aldous Huxley, whom you met only once and too briefly to discuss music with him, informed your taste in the string quartets of Borodin and Scriabin.  Surely there are other examples in such things as food, wine, and personality types.

With even greater potential for certainty, your reading could well have affected your regard to various types of individuals; look for instance, at the array of types presented you in your reading of Dickens and his contemporary pal, Wilkie Collins.

Look as well at types of endings.  Your return to Jane Austen by way of investigating her narrative techniques has already led you to see her novel, Northanger Abby, for more than the entertaining story it is, and why would her work not be entertaining to you, given your sense of her poking satiric fun at the class stratification about her? 

 In your preparations for your forthcoming class in noir fiction, you sense a comparison between Northanger Abby and one of the Gothic horror novels of the past, Horace Walpole's 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto.  Austen's novel can be seen as a satire in the best sense of the word; the same sense, in fact, of all Austen's novels, which take on class structure.

Your admiration for Austen is for her interior narrative skills and her use of subtext.  You part company with her endings, even though they speak to a kind of essential English middle-class accord in which individuals of differing social levels often place love above level.  This is still the comedic ending, the "and they all lived happily ever after" kind of ending, which is less to you liking than the noir and the more practical endings from George Eliot in the likes of Middlemarch.

Such endings as Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, and, on this side of the pond, Willa Cather and William Faulkner, influenced your inexorable gravitation to the noir, the dark-sided mystery and edgy confrontations with reality of such varied authors as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Daniel Woodrell.

The results are not so much a result of you disliking happy endings as distrusting their probable reality as representations of real persons confronting tangible and believable social, ethical, and spiritual conflicts.

With the great certainty of memory, you can recall individuals who told you things of a hurtful, educational, encouraging, or practical nature, then trace the embedded effect.  This reminds you of the times you had to perform minor surgery on yourself, either with a sewing needle or the blade of a pocket knife, subjected to antiseptic via an applied wooden match.  This to remove a splinter of wood, somehow embedded in a hand or foot.  The emotional splinter was placed there by an individual and removed by you.

Books also go a long way toward building direct and indirect images in your mind, causing you to question, challenge, avoid, or seek out.  Such judgments are of high speculative index, nevertheless it is your judgment that at least as many of your tastes, prejudices, and preferences come from your reading as from actual persons.

All the more reason to continue with your reading.

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