Thursday, June 27, 2013

Between Two Covers


I am currently reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I came across the following quotation,


“No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot. “


Now this brings back memories and feelings of when I was very young. It was a time when I was able to read but not yet ready for long and complicated adult books. I stared at bookshelves in awe. Beefy tomes seemed a wonder to me. I think that I was on the cusp of the situation described in the above quotation, able to read sentences, simple paragraphs, maybe even short children’s books; but the big adult books were still out of my reach. Even then, there was an insatiable curiosity. There was a strong mystique to these objects called books.  How could one collect so much knowledge between two covers? How could anyone absorb such voluminous intricate detail?

When I initially attempted to tackle such weighty works, history books at first, I more often than not did not finish them. Surprisingly, when school acquainted me with textbooks, I learned an important lesson. At the start of the year these textbooks appeared insurmountable. I learned, however, that slow progress, one week at a time, eventually yielded comprehensive results. Slow and steady wins the race!

Later, I did begin to read history books. For fiction, I began to devour what at the time I described as “serious science fiction”. Later still, this was not enough. There were other literary works beyond the science fiction genre that were just as important to explore, if not more so. Of course, reading critically was an important early lesson. As brilliant as some the minds behind some of these works were, I knew that I needed to really look hard at their ideas. Many of the messages in the early fiction that I read seemed incongruous with each other, as well as with what seemed true about life and with existence. Early religious instruction with its accompanying Bible readings also had an impact. Here was a combination of works that, even at the time, I sensed were immensely important. They reached into culture, morality and human emotion. I grasped some of their aesthetic beauty. These texts were filled with ideas; but I saw that these were a mix of good, in–between and bad ideas. Despite what so many others were telling me, as profound as these writings were, I concluded that they were not the definitive word on morality or the reality of existence. The same proved true of the ideas presented in many other books.

Throughout much of my early youth, I imagined the perfect adult who was constantly reading books of all types and taking in the collective knowledge of humanity. I think that this idealized grown-up helped shape me into the reader that I am today.


Sometimes, the sight of a book, even a book that I believe or know to be really good, seems very mundane and commonplace.  At other times, I take another look and I once again feel the wonder and awe at just how much thought and beauty is contained within that very small space between two covers.





39 comments:

Richard said...

I'm beginning to get old enough to feel that that awe that you talk about is beginning to turn into desperation that I won't have enough time to experience all that awe in all the books I'd like to--morbid but true confession! How's the Dickens so far, Brian--any hints?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Richard - I have the same feeling. I will not get to all the books that U really want to in my lifetime. It really is fun trying however. Reading against the clock of our limited lifespans is actually a reoccurring theme of Howard Boom.

I am about halfway through "Our Mutual Friend". O am really liking it. There are few really interesting and complex characters as well as some philosophical undertones.

Caroline said...

That's a wonderful post, Brian.
I'm not always feeling that awe anymore. There are phases when it comes back but not like it used too.
Still it bugs me not to have enough time, maybe not even for my TBR pile looking at the size of it.
How do you like reading Dicknes in summer? Maybe that's a silly comment but he strikes me as an autumn/winter author.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - Thanks for the good word, Indeed the awe at time dies wane.

The Dickens reference to winter is not silly at all. Some of his books do seem to fit the the winter mood a lot. There are a lot of weather descriptions in this book. It takes place over along period of time so they cover winter, spring, summer and fall. This seems to neutralize any unnatural feelings arising out of this book in the summer.

....Petty Witter said...

Such an interesting post most of which I can relate to.

I always think the key to get children enjoying reading is to find out what interests and inspires them.

Harvee @ Book Dilettante said...

I was taught to read before I went to school. I only regretted not having enough books at home during the holidays or a library close enough to visit...

Lucy said...

This is such a great post! I remember deciding quite early on that I wanted to move away from children's literature and towards the classics and fiction that seemed so much more interesting.

I've always liked being able to push myself with reading - if there's a big book I haven't yet read, I'll put it on my to-read list and make sure I don't forget about it.

I can't imagine being denied access to the books I love; so many contain wisdom and guidance that is hard to find elsewhere.

Suko said...

Very interesting post! An insatiable curiosity often leads to books, I think. It's not about how many books you read, but how you read them. Slow and steady is the way!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Petty - Very true about what interest and inspires children is key to beginning reading. I think however that key step in adolescence is to start reading a little out of the comfort zone.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee- I do remember my parents reading to me at a very early age. I really looked for books to devour too.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lucy - I remember being fairly young and not wanted to read children's literature or anything that was even labeled "Young Adult" (That label has evolved a bit since I was a teenager).


I must say I have almost never been without a book. The thought of being in such a way would be terrible.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Lately I have been talking to a few folks who tell me they get frustrated that books take so long and they give them up. I think that this is very common. Perhaps are society is too much aimed at instant gratification.

Naida said...

Wonderful post Brian, and I love that shot of the books.
"I once again feel the wonder and awe at just how much thought and beauty is contained within that very small space between two covers"<- I think this statement resonates with lovers of books and literature.
I do think that initial curiosity opens the doors to what kind of readers we all become. It's interesting to take a look at why we all choose the types of books we read.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - Indeed what books that we choose is a subject that can encompass volumes. As Richard commented above many of us realize that we will never get to everything that we really want to.

Guy Savage said...

I always have a classic going and then a modern novel or crime book at the same time. Currently reading Lady Audley's Secret--another book I'd been meaning to get to for ages.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Guy - I usually have two books going at any one time. I tried long ago to stick to a pattern of alternation but that never really worked.

Ryan said...

Your recollection of childhood sounds eerily similar to mine. I desperately wanted to know what it felt like to finish one of those beefy novels.

Rachel Bradford said...

I've always felt the same way - there's such a wealth of information out there if only I could devour it all. Even the stuff I don't agree with. Because if you seriously think about the stuff you don't agree with, sometimes you can see the other side for a moment.

Lately I've been so busy with school that I've only been reading very light stuff. I'll be happy to get back to my usual reading habits when classes end. But it's surprising how much you can learn even from light, fluffy reading!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Ryan - It is amazing how bookish people often have such smilier experiences in our youths.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Rachel - I know what you mean about a heavy class load and it making impossible to read the more serious stuff. It has been a couple of years for me, likely it will not happen again.


Agree about seeing things from another point of view. Also, even stuff that one will never likely agree with is spelled out so marvelously that it is worth the read.

Parrish Lantern said...

I can distinctly recall my path into this world of ours starting by staring at my grandparents bound classics collection. Then working my way through then until the day they were done & I set off seeking my own addition to that ideal collection we all must have in our hearts. Then one author begats another who begats etc until we each have our personal library. Great thought provoking post enjoyed it thanks

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Parish - I actually wish that I had started in the classics earlier. Too much science fiction early on. Some of it was great and classic in it's own right, but much of it was not.

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi Brian, funnily enough that was where I went after my grandparents collection, I dived headlong into the world of Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldis etc.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Parish - It seems that many of us started with science fiction. The little that I read of Moorcock is good. Aldi is excellent.

Andrew Blackman said...

Nice article, Brian. I had much the same feeling as a child, and loved the idea of entering the world of ideas. I embarked on War and Peace when I was about 11 or 12, and it took me ages and some of it went over my head, but I loved reading such a huge book with so much contained it, so much knowledge of a world far away from suburban London. Your post reminded me of that feeling, so thanks!

bookaroundthecorner said...

I can relate to what you wrote,of course. I wonder if this will happen to future generations, with ebooks taking over. Where is the attraction to covers and will they know the pleasure of walking along shelves in a library or browsing through book's.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Andrew - You know I still not yet tackled War and Peace! I do plan to so, hopefully sooner then later. That truly is an impressive looking book!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Emma - I never actually thought of what I wrote in relation to ebooks and the changing world. I believe that future generations will find other, different inspirations.

JaneGS said...

My parents, particularly my father, and my older brothers and sister were all great readers, and our living room was filled with books, as were the bedrooms. Being the youngest in the family, they were all reading books beyond me while I was young, but their reading shaped me. I also remember staring at shelves and longing for the day when I could tackle "real" books.

My older brother picked out Jane Eyre for me to read when I asked him to recommend a "grownup" book for me to read when I was 11 or 12, and most of the literature I read as a teenager were books my brothers gave me...a lot of Steinbeck, but also Twain and Dickens. Thank goodness my mother intervened and gave me Austen to read :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - When I think about it I would say that my family were only moderate readers and that I am the most bookish in the family.It was enough howeverto spark this lifelong love.

Maria Behar said...

Hey, Brian!

Oh, this is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!! I LOVE it!! It's so nice to read about other readers' experiences with books!

I really enjoyed this post!! Could I put it on my blog as a guest post? Please let me know! Thanks in advance!! : )

Shelley said...

I remember when I was little being so desperate to read anything that I read my parents college textbooks. I probably only understood a small portion of what I read, but I couldn't help myself.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Shelly - I too remember picking up books and only getting a fraction as to the content. I remember trying the Encyclopedia Britannica's enormous entry on the Roman Empire. Though more comprehension was weak, this stuff really whetted my appetite.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - Thanks again for the good word.

It is interesting to share early reading experiences. One thing that I am realizing based upon everyone's comments is that many folks have had similar childhood experiences to me.


I would be flattered if you were to put this up on your blog. Thanks again!

Maria Behar said...

Hey, Brian!

You're very welcome!! Have a good one, and thanks for allowing me to publish your post as a guest on my blog! : )

Maria Behar said...

Hey! Just letting you know that the post will be up by midnight tonight! I meant to publish it earlier, but was a bit too busy with blog tours. : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hey Maria- No Rush.

Life gets so busy.

I am honored.

Thanks again.

James said...

Thanks for a wonderful reverie on the life of reading. My background, not terribly unlike yours includes plenty of SF in my teen years. The larger more serious books, fiction or nonfiction, seemed to slowly succumb to my reading habits. Looking back I wonder when anyone marvels at the size of a "War and Peace" for that is not the defining characteristic for readers such as ourselves.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - It is funny how many of us began with science fiction. The best of it really was about big ideas that stimulated the mind.

I still have not yet tackled War and Peace but I must give it a go soon!