Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: classic books

Human Memory

Been There. Done that.

Haven't you?

Stoker’s The Lady of The Shroud

When I am up in Big Bear, I always visit the used book store, Bearly Used Books. It’s tucked away upstairs at the Village Faire and every time I go in there, I find several treasures to take home with me. I go right to the “classics” section and run my finger along the titles, searching for the ones I don’t have or by authors I heard the name of. This last time my eyes stopped “Bram Stoker” and it was not under the title Dracula, it was The Lady of The Shroud.

the lady of the shroud

I didn’t know Bram Stoker wrote anything else and Dracula is one of my favorite stories. I’ve read the book at least twice and seen every movie rendition of it several times over. Yes, it’s the sex that draws me in. There’s just something super-hot about the story, but I won’t get into THAT because we’re here to talk about The Lady of The Shroud!

I read the introduction in this version and was fascinated by his family and upbringing. His father was a civil servant (a career he took up as well), and his mother was…eccentric. She was friends with Oscar Wilde’s mother and, as an adult, Stoker stole his girl out from under him and married her. I didn’t know that Stoker was Irish or that his name was Abraham, which makes Bram as a name make sense. Now I’m wondering if there might be a good biography about the author out there.

I’m only eighteen pages into The Lady of The Shroud and I’m already enjoying the style immensely. It’s written the same way Dracula was, letters and documents used to report on an incident as if it happened to the author recently and he’s just documenting the facts for the future.

It’s interesting to me that I can read a 350-page modern novel far faster than I can a classic from 100 years ago. This book is 258 pages long, large pages, a fine print. I only read about twenty pages the hour I had this morning. Settle in because it looks like we’ll be here a while.

“…my dear Rupert, you shall be of full age in seven years more. Then, if you are in the same mind – and I am sure you shall not change – you, being your own master, can do freely as you will.”

The lady of the shroud by bram stoker

Rupert’s parents died and his mother left him an estate controlled by trustees until he is an adult. He gets money for lodging, food, and clothing, from that estate each year, but he wishes to legally give it to his “aunt,” a woman that used to care for him as governess. His trustees cannot legally do that but some are helping him to help her in other ways.

What interests me is that Rupert has shown up at his uncle’s home, poor, dirty, and hungry, to ask him (as his trustee) to help him. The man refuses, then offers food. Rupert refuses it and leaves. Then I read he’ll be “of full age in seven years.” Full age at the time was 21, so Rupert is fourteen years old and on his own. That’s not surprising for the time. It’s only recently we have begun to think of young people between thirteen and twenty as “children” needing constant care and supervision.

It reminds me of when my oldest son took off for a two-week trip to Germany when he was sixteen, and then left again for a year there when he was seventeen. I knew (but I was still terrified) that he was essentially a young adult with very little experience and the only way to gain experience is by doing life. He went out into the world, an adult in many ways but still under the protection of his family, not quite in charge of himself, the same way Rupert is in my story.

I believe we coddle our children, much to their detriment and our own. Yes, they are young and learning. They will make many mistakes, some of which can ruin them or others. But the only way we all learn is by doing. We can’t set them safely aside until they reach a more moderate age and then set them free into the world expecting them to act that age. Maturity is only brought on by experience.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book. Will it be as good as Dracula? Possibly. It already feels similar. The matter-of-fact way that Stoker describes the eerie way things happen, it’s like he’s ever so slowly slowing down your heart to stop it. You don’t even know he’s doing it until it’s too late, a lot like the way Dracula entreats you to give up your life blood willingly.

Want to read more? Check out these posts inspired by quotes from this book!
Much Needed Advice From the Past
A Mysterious Compulsion Has Come Over Me
What Does it Mean to Feel Contentment?
Gothic Fiction Turns Steam Punk in this Gem

My Name is Asher Lev: A New Read

Picked up “My Name is Asher Lev” from the donate pile because I saw it was written by Chaim Potok. I read The Chosen years ago at a Leadership Education mini-conference and was left with a beautiful impression. What was it about? All I remember is Hasidic Jews in New York, a father/son relationship, and learning that some Jews thought (and still believe) a State of Israel was a bad idea. Maybe I’ll read it again.

My Name is Asher Lev

I wasn’t sure what to pick up off my WAY over-grown TBR shelf next, but I knew I wanted a novel and something meatier than Stephen King this time. I’m glad my hand was drawn to this one.

From the first page of chapter one:

“So strong words are being written and spoken about me, myths are being generated: I am a traitor, an apostate, a self-hater, an inflicter of shame upon my family, my friends, my people; also, I am a mocker of ideas sacred to Christians, a blasphemous manipulator of modes and forms revered by Gentiles for two thousand years.

Well, I am none of those things. And yet, in all honesty, I confess that my accusers are not altogether wrong: I am indeed, in some way, all of those things.

The fact is that gossip, rumors, mythmaking, and news stories are not appropriate vehicles for the communication of nuances of truth, those subtle tonalities that are often the truly crucial elements in a casual chain.”

It grabbed me. “Gossip, rumors, mythmaking, and news stories” seem to be all we have these days. And we are all basing our decisions on them. Decisions about what to do with our bodies, our money, who our enemies are, who should be cast out or kept close. This is the thing that makes me the saddest right now. It’s been a downward spiral for several years, starting long BCB (before covid bullshit, still hoping that catches on).

This is why I’ve shunned social media and online news. This is why I read books, the deep ones, the ones that want to show me something, not just entertain me for a few hours. And this one looks like it’s going to be a winner.

Written in 1972. Hasidic Jews, New York, 1950’s, communists, Stalin, Russians…one hundred pages in and I’ve already teared up, gasped in surprise, and had my heart broken. I can’t wait to hear what happens to him as he gets older. Where does his art take him? Is it a gift from the Master of the Universe or the other one?

Have you read My Name is Asher Lev or The Chosen? Want to read it with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments here. Or if you’re shy, email me!

PS It’s still blazing hot out here. We’ve seen far too many 115 degree days this summer. But I when I went to bed last night, it was almost dark. That’s a good sign. The seasons do still change. Fall is coming. I just need to wait it out!

If you’d like to read my final thoughts on this book, pop over to Art: A Personal Expression of Passion

Lord Jim & This ‘Cancel’ Idea

Lord Jim book review

I really got into Lord Jim even though there were times when I wasn’t sure what was going on. Joseph Conrad tends to ramble, say things that seem to have no cause or effect, and then come back around to them. I liked it.

Poor Jim. He made a mistake when he was just a boy by our standards, and he felt guilty about it for the rest of his life, right up to the end. It made me think of a lot of news stories I’ve been seeing lately. This person went to a party and was a racist. That person did drugs. This one made sexist remarks. All accusations made about events at least twenty years in the past.

We all do things we regret, every single one of us, and not all of us dwell on it for the rest of our lives. I don’t think we are meant to. We learn from our mistakes (or not) and move on with our lives. Thanks to our new permanent and worldwide media, we can’t escape our past and our culture seems to lean into and celebrate that.

Now that I think about it, that’s not a new thing, is it? It’s just that we have more opportunities to record and bring up proof of the past. Throughout the ages, we’ve ostracized people for their past discrepancies: bad business deals, sexual infidelities, where people were born or to whom.

What good does it do? If I do something to offend someone when I’m twenty years old, does that mean I’m a terrible person and unfit for service when I’m forty? Jim thought so. He fell into a big mistake, following along with the people around him, and ended up being the only one that paid legally for it. Then socially, too. He was ruined, not only in society, but in his head and heart.

A friend believed he was a good man and helped him start a new life. It was good one. He did well, helped people, made a life for himself, but in the back of his mind was that fateful deed. He never forgave himself and ended up paying for it again and again until he died.

Is that what we want today for everyone? Is that what seems like justice, community, progressive thinking? I think what we’re doing is harmful to our society. We expect people to be perfect right from the start, never make a misstep, and to be clairvoyant enough to know what a misstep will look like in the future. All we’re going to get is a neurotic society, afraid to step out of line, afraid of the people around them, afraid to make any remark, create anything, or to let go even a little.

Jim’s story was a sad one, echoing now from 120 years in the past.

If you want to read more posts based on quotes from “Lord Jim”, you’ll find a list of them at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Peace in The Motion of the Waves

Peace in the motion of the waves.
Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

Peace comes and goes, like the waves, I guess. Maybe I’m just watching for stories in the clouds, but it seems that things just come together in impossible ways if you just sit back and wait a bit.

This photo is in honor of my youngest son, whose wave is building up again. May he ride it well, accept the break, and rise again with tide.

So may we all.

“At the first bend he lost sight of the sea with its labouring waves for ever rising, sinking, and vanishing to rise again – the very image of struggling mankind – and faced the immovable forests rooted deep in the soil, soaring towards the sunshine, everlasting in the shadowy might of their tradition, like life itself.”

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Did you find peace in that quote the way I did?

We think mankind is always moving forward, but in reality, over the thousands of years our kind has been on this planet, we rise, sink, vanish, over and over again. Individuals, families, clans, and civilizations, nations all have come and gone, only to build up and rise again. The next time I see the waves, I’ll think of that.

There’s no need to lose our minds over the state of society. We do what we can to enjoy the time we have here, to leave our space a little bit nicer than how we found it, if we can. And then we’re gone.

The only thing that continues is life itself, that immovable forest. People talk about humans destroying the earth, but really, we can only destroy the environment to the extent that we finally go extinct. And if humans are gone, the earth remains, life goes on as it always has since the beginning of time.

No one person’s life is that important in the grand scheme of things. It reminds me where to put my own focus. The place any of us can make the biggest impact is right at home. It starts with our relationship with ourselves, moves into that of our family and friends, and into our co-workers (or in my case, those people I see at the grocery store, or you).

If we all spent our days making our immediate surroundings more pleasant, wouldn’t the whole world be a bit more pleasant? What if we stopped fighting the crashing of our waves on the shore and enjoyed the ride, found peace in the cycle? Life will go on no matter what you choose to do.

If you want to read more posts based on quotes from “Lord Jim”, you’ll find a list of them at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Does Our Conscience or Comrades Guide Our Actions?

Is it our internal conscience or external comrades that goad us in one direction or another? Our moral compass or our constant associates? Our upbringing or our society?

“I am willing to believe each of us has a guardian angel, if you fellows will concede to me that each of us has a familiar devil as well.”

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Donald's conscience guiding him.
Photo from IMDb

Remember this one? Donald Duck with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

I’ve always considered it a representation of our conscience, the impulse to do good or evil, to consider ourselves or others, Jiminy Cricket imploring us to do what’s right. Yeah, I watched a lot of cartoons and movies growing up. But could it be more?

In this story, I believe Marlowe is asking us to consider the company we keep and how it could influence our actions. Humans are greatly influenced by the people that surround them. We are driven to fit in and belong. No matter what our personal feelings are, if we’re surrounded by evil, we all tend to succumb to the “When in Rome…” idea.

There are so many sayings that put forward this idea. They keep popping up in my head! Didn’t your mom ask you, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?” Of course, you would! That’s what humans do.

We have evolved to live in groups. It’s safer and far more productive than living alone. We band together in families, clans, communities, states, and nations. We share resources. We emotionally bond with others. We are stronger in groups. Even a Bible verse comes to mind, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

Maybe we should consider the company that we keep. And, when considering the guilt of another, that person’s company as well. Sometimes we fall into the wrong crowd. Sometimes we get swept along with the current. And sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to just to stay alive.

This is the first of my posts on this book. If you want to read more, you’ll find a list of posts at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

The love of classic books can help humanity be more empathetic.

Book cover on book shelf of classic books.
The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age

What do we have to learn from classic books? What could be relevant to me inside something written by someone that has so little in common with my own time and person? How can I possibly learn anything other than what happened in the past and what went wrong?

“Much of the way we perceive ourselves and the world manifestly changes as society, language, ideology, and technology change; but we also continue to share much as creatures born of woman, begotten by man, raised with siblings, endowed with certain appetites, conscious of our own mortality, confronting nature from our various locations in culture.”

“The characters and life situations of the narratives of different eras speak to us not because they reflect a knowledge which never changes but rather because they express a set of enigmas with which we continue to wrestle.”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age by Robert Alter

That’s what a good book is all about. This is why we read novels, why we pick up books written a hundred years ago, by a person completely unlike us, from a place completely unlike ours. We see the commonality in the experiences of others throughout history, in fiction and non-fiction.

When we write, we create characters and put them in situations to experience and work through. While we write them, we are working through our own things, “wrestling” with that “set of enigmas.” And when you read it, you see our work and incorporate it into your own. It’s magical and crosses time and culture in a way no other medium can.

No, I’m not a young white female in Victorian England, but I can understand that character and use her experience to round out my own thinking. I’m not a black male in the American South, escaping slavery and falling in love…but I can feel those feelings, experience it, in a way through the authors words, and see ways we share humanity.

We learn empathy when we read classic books, fiction from ages past. We learn about ourselves when we experience life through another person’s thoughts, real or imagined. And we learn that what it really means to be human across all times and cultures doesn’t change that much. There’s some comfort in continuity.

Click over to my original post, “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” to read my initial thoughts on this book!

Find “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” on Thriftbooks and read along with me. If you do, be sure to comment so I know you’re out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Old Man and The Sea

Am I too far from the sea to read this?

I usually have several quotes to share about a book I’m reading: things that struck me, bits I want to remember or that brings me to some idea I want to expand on, possibly not even related to the book itself but to a bigger thought…but not this time.

This time it was more about the story. There wasn’t much to pull out of it in pieces. It was more of a feeling. Reading it, I could feel myself swept away to sea, pulled by the story instead of a fish. Like the old man, I have nothing to sell at the end of the adventure, but I do have scars to show.

What happens to him next? Does he end up dying? Going out again? Why did he follow such a big fish and what could he have done differently?

I do have one piece to pull out of the story to save for later.

“Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?”

Sometimes we see something and think…that was lucky…only to find later that it was not. Other times we pray for our luck to change when, in the long run, what’s happening is the luck we were looking for. It reminds me to take what comes and see what happens instead of wishing for a change.

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