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READING

“The greatest friend of truth is Time…” –Charles Caleb Colton [1780-1832]

Richard Gary Brautigan (1935–c. September 16, 1984) was an American novelist, poet, and short story writer.  During the 1960s, Brautigan became involved in the burgeoning San Francisco counterculture scene.  In the summer of 1961, he completed the novels A Confederate General from Big Sur and Trout Fishing in America.  When Trout Fishing in America was published in 1967, Brautigan was catapulted to international fame.  Literary critics labeled him the writer most representative of the emerging countercultural youth-movement of the late 1960s.  Also during the 1960s, Brautigan published four collections of poetry as well as another novel, In Watermelon Sugar (1968).  In the spring of 1967, he was Poet-in-Residence at the California Institute of Technology.  Later he was generally dismissed by literary critics and increasingly abandoned by his readers; then his popularity waned throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.  Brautigan’s writings are characterized by a remarkable and humorous imagination.  The permeation of inventive metaphors lent even his prose-works the feeling of poetry.  Evident also are themes of Zen Buddhism like the duality of the past and the future and the impermanence of the present.  In 1984, at age 49, Richard Brautigan had moved to Bolinas, California, where he was living alone in a large old house that he had bought with his earnings years earlier.  He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. [summarized from Wikipedia]

Some Poetry texts: Please Plant This Book (1968); The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1969); Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt (1970); Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork (1971)….

“Ozymandias” by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), January 1818

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Time marches on (as if Time can march), and the desert wastelands are poeticized by Brautigan:

Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt

                —San Francisco Chronicle headline
                    June 26, 1942

Rommel is dead.
His army has joined the quicksand legions
of history where battle is always
a metal echo saluting a rusty shadow.
His tanks are gone.
How’s your ass?

So how are things in the Syrian Desert?

interrobang

“A great work of art may provide us the opportunity to feel more profoundly and more generously, to perceive more fully the implications of experience, than the constricted and fragmentary conditions of life permit.”  –Louise M. Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration (Noble, 1968)

. . .

Underlinings and Notes from A Literary Education by Joseph Epstein (Axios, 2014)

“Apart from those people trained as professional scholars or scientists, we are all finally autodidacts [self-taughts[, making our way on our own as best we can, with our real teachers being the books we happen to read.”

“…the best that any university can do is point its students in the right direction: let them know what the intellectual possibilities are and give them a taste of the best that has been thought and written in the past.”

“…literature, largely though not exclusively imaginative literature, provides the best education for a man or woman in a free society.”

“While novelists may have a plenitude of ideas, or deal with complex ideas in their work, it is rarely their ideas that are the most compelling things about their work.”

“A literary education establishes a strong taste for the endless variousness of life; it teaches how astonishing reality is–…”

“…a literary education teaches the limitation of the intellect itself, at least when applied to the great questions, problems, issues, and mysteries of life.”

“A literary education teaches that human nature is best, if always incompletely, understood through the examination of individual cases [and] those cases that…prove no rule–the unique human personality.” 

“…  [I]t provides an enhanced appreciation of the mysteries and complexities of life that reinforce the inestimable value of human liberty…”

. . .

Epstein quoting Marcel Proust: “Our intellect is not the most subtle, the most powerful, the most appropriate instrument for revealing truth.  It is life that, little by little, example by example, permits us to see that what is most important to our heart, or to our mind, is learned not by reasoning, but through other agencies.  Then it is that the intellect, observing their superiority, abdicates its control to them upon reasoned grounds and agrees to become their collaborator and lackey.”

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“Adults like to talk about their reading…to force the mind to recollect forgotten but important memories of how one became a reader.”  –G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill, Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books, 1988.

Can you write your “reading autobiography”?  What do I remember about learning to read?  What books do I remember reading?  Who, if anyone, had been important in developing my attitudes toward reading?  When and where did I read?

TOPICAL OVERVIEW OF READING HISTORY: REMEMBERING.

Growing with Books: Chronology: Beginning to Now

Learning to Read, Habits, and Attitudes

Sources for Books and Reading Materials

Outcomes from Reading (“Whatever the reason for a ‘watershed’ book’s appeal, seldom [is] a memory of the book consciously associated with the book’s degree of literary merit.  What was remembered is the emotional impact of the book, the insights it provided for self or others, and the growth that it stimulated in the reader.”  –Carlsen and Sherrill)

Teachers and Teaching

Libraries and Librarians

Poetry and the Classics

Barriers: Why Some Just Don’t Read

“Books and reading may not be the only activity in human life, but…”

“Reading maketh a full man.”  –Francis Bacon

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler

how to read a book by mortimer adler old

What a great book for me!  While a senior in high school, I belonged to the Book Club.  A group of us would meet once a month to discuss a book chosen by a faculty advisor.  He prepared questions for our comments.  Our first reading was Adler’s book.

This now-favorite and well-used book (first published in 1940) is still available in both “real” print and “electronic” print.  I have gone through two or three copies–and have given copies as gifts.  Were I to point out a most influential book in my life, Adler’s would be one of the three (followed by The Power and the Glory [1940] and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [1943]).

Often I see Adler’s book staring at me from its place on my bookshelf.

Looking through this book not long ago, I was searching for an answer to some question about my teaching career and about students: “…although the teacher may help his student in many ways, it is the student himself who must do the learning.  Knowledge must grow in his mind if learning is to take place.”

At that point, in a special mental instant, memory-filled, I became so aware of how far I had come in my learning and discovering, by reading.  Then there occurred a light-bulb “Ah-ha!” kind of connective moment,

light of reason

not about reading but about my own discovering, by do-ing.  I stood before my bookshelf, holding Adler, musing: What have I done? 

When I was being presented with my retirement gifts and honor plaque, “For his twenty years of full-time service…,” I stood there–really–thinking about my grandfather teaching me how to do “hands-on”: the practical, not the theoretical.  Nailing and sawing and shoveling and painting and gluing.

So much of my teaching career was not “hands on”–except, of course, when I would finger paint with my Head Start students; except, of course, my writing class notes on black, green, and white boards; except, of course, for correcting-annotating-commenting upon hundreds and piles of student papers; except, of course, for typing lesson plans, calculating and entering grades and achievements.  (Late in my career, though, I was doing “hands-on” computer instruction.)

Adler’s how-to book came long after some of my how-to experiences.

While in grammar school (elementary school), I did babysitting duties: bathing, feeding, and bedding (and changing diapers).  Yet I also was able to get a “real” job at a local grocery story.  I put up stock, helped clean up, but most importantly (since I was an experienced newspaper delivery boy), I was able to be trusted to deliver groceries.  Not as easy as it sounds, considering the delivery vehicle:

grocery bicycle

DELIVERY BICYCLE [RUSTED]

Careful and skillful, I did not let the bicycle tip or turn, spilling the contents of the basket–well, not often.  I learned then about center of gravity.  (The turning bike wanted to pull me over.)

Sometimes “all thumbs” at changing faucet washers, and driving nails, I still managed to be “hand-y”: knowing how to paint, scrub floors in the local school with a temperamental scrubbing machine, do dishes (glasses, knives and forks first; dishes, pots and pans last); mow lawns, shovel snow, change tires (automobile and bicycle).  (Later in life, in my automotive-mechanic stage of life, I actually installed water pumps, changed brakes, and even added a Holley 4-barrel carburetor to my 1954 Ford!  What achievements!)

1954 ford

I could tie a tie, long after learning how to tie shoelaces; shave my face, handwrite, and sign my name.  I hate to dust, but I can organize dirty clothes and do laundry.  And from observing and reading, I could/can make a “signature” meatloaf!

While working in a foundry, handling a swing grinder and hand tools, I made, fashioned, and finished dies for plastic companies, or was grinding off mold-edges on fire hydrants or small engines, still hot from the casting.  This work was dirty, sweaty, and hands-on. 

Yes, I have been a doer, with hands and fingers.  And I am pleased. 

I did, though, have my creative artistic attempts, like drawing flowers that looked like lollipops; then had twenty good years using my hands with glass, colored and contoured, fabricating flowers and shapes and geometrics that let the light shine through: my stained-glass years.

The Maltese Blue--One of the Best

THE MALTESE BLUE

All this and more.

My story of learning and discovery, however, cannot end without mention of one of my other greatest accomplishments of manipulative making.  I was privileged, honored, to be able to use my hands in a bookbindery.  Now how is that for a Mortimer Adler segue?

As a college junior, I found a place in the college bindery, an opportunity for me to come in contact with paper, cloth, glue, drill presses–to love books even more and realize the sacredness of pages put together.  There I folded and bound papers and pages into sets, the fascicles; sewed and pulled and tightened using needles and “thread” to sew units, not unlike Shakespeare’s quartos and octavos.  I grouped, squeezed, and pressed together the clusters of papers, then glued and waited.  The ends of the pages were trimmed with large-bladed cutters; I lost no parts of any fingers or thumbs. 

I learned how to make covers of cardboard and cloth, uniting the covers to the sewed and glued pages.  I pressed all parts together, and waited for drying.  I even learned to print titles, imprinted, impressed, using fonts of type and gold leaf foil.  I bound magazines, students’ notes, paperback texts, library journals, old books.

book edge of grant memoirs

I was proud of my work; I did my job.  I was good at my work and all the work I have done “with these hands.”

From all of this–from my reading, from my doing, from my remembering–it is that when I consider this “do-ing,” I am well pleased, something akin to sticking in my scarred thumb and pulling out a plumb–and saying, “What a good boy am I!” 

I did well, with my fingers and my thumbs. 

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

Little-Jack-Horner the color com

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

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