Written in 1972 and apparently made into an animated movie, but it’s new to me! The story of Grendel by John Gardner through the monster’s eyes.
Judged a book by its cover, you did. -Yoda
That’s exactly what I did, Yoda. I know the basic story of Grendel. Something about a monster that comes to the hall each year and attacks the warriors inside. They always try to keep it out but it always wins. It’s from Beowulf, which I read a million years ago, probably in a English Literature class.
I picked Grendel by John Gardner out of my friend’s book hoard simply because of the cover. The creature looks so sad, not so horrific and mean like other renditions of it. I wanted to find out why.
Thirty pages into it this morning and I see why. This is its story. The book isn’t about the monster from someone else’s point of view. It’s told from the monster’s point of view. Why does it do this? What motivates its monstrous behavior toward the human world? I was sucked in this morning, already feeling sorry for it, wondering what will happen.
I looked up the book title and found (of course) a Wikipedia article about Grendel. I didn’t want to read too much of it for fear of spoilers, so I quickly moved over to the John Gardner’s Wikipedia article and read some there. It looks like he created a bit of controversy back in the 70’s, but who didn’t? I found that he had also written a few books on writing that were popular, and you know how much I love books about reading and writing! I’ll be adding those titles to my wish list.
Do you know this author? Sometimes I feel like I’m late in the game. I find something new and exciting, coming running in to share it, and everyone else just looks at me like I stepped out of time machine from the past. If you’ve read it, or want to read it with me, shoot over some comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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.
“…you are yourself a realm of contradictions and miracles. Inside you is love and hatred, beauty and vile, fear and courage, betrayal and faithfulness. You are a mirror for the universe with all contrasts and wonders, with its colors and manifestations.”
Want to hear something strange? When I read this I thought of Michael Jackson in that song “The Girl Is Mine”
We’re all lovers and fighters, aren’t we? Depends on the circumstances. We’re beautiful when we are loved and turn vile against those that hate us. We full of fear when confronted with the horrors we see in the world but filled with courage when protecting those we love.
We’re a big bag of crazy contradictions, every single one of us.
Is that what the universe is? A contrast of black and white and all the manifestations between, the infinite grays? The mountain top gives you a beautiful view of the valley below but makes you a target for lighting. The valleys are fertile for growing, but flood often. Animals are beautiful and dangerous. Some fruit is sweet and poisonous.
And love? We know what we’re in for. The best love comes through full disclosure and acceptance. What makes you the most vulnerable, what sets us up for the destruction of our hearts, also brings us closer to others and can build relationship that lasts a lifetime.
And what about sex? That glorious act of passion and pleasure?
The very idea of being naked and alone with another human, diseases, and pregnancy…the ultimate vulnerability. Is it worth it? Obviously, YES!
To be human means to live in constant contradiction, just like the rest of the universe.
I love the image this quote makes for me. We are simply a mirror of the complicated, contradictory mess around us that we call the universe. We all of it right here inside our hearts and minds.
Maybe our ultimate goal in this world should be to use that miracle of a brain to comprehend the wild world around us, to make sense of what we see and feel, maybe even make it just a little bit easier for the people around us to thrive, you know, those ones aren’t so “with it” as we are.
“A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow strong roots just as the storm appears on the horizon.”
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
How do get those strong roots? By building healthy habits every day. We prepare for the coming storms, because we know they are coming even when the sky is clear and the air is warm. Suffering is inevitable: an illness will find you, someone will die, a relationship will end, you’ll lose a job, a natural disaster will hit where you live. The list goes on and on forever.
What can we do?
Grow deep and healthy roots.
We read and study, exercise, eat healthy to prepare for the coming storms. We work, budget, and save money for the future. We do preventative maintenance on our homes and vehicles so that they continue to work well for us. We learn to communicate and bond with others in new ways so that our relationships can last longer.
We should always be growing and learning, creating more intricate and developed support systems.
Healthy and communicative relationships help you prepare for the future. Each time we successfully navigate a new relationship, build on a current one, or transition from one kind to another, we learn about ourselves and become stronger for the next stage of our lives.
Parenting is another way we prepare for the future. Building a strong and stable family that loves and supports children as they grow their own roots is the best way to contribute to a happier future generation. Your children are born growing. They instinctively know what they need. Follow their lead.
Giving your children the home and safety that you wanted as a child, helps you re-parent yourself and grow those roots you feel you were lacking. In this way, each generation can build on the last.
Strong roots are built by healthy habits.
Strong healthy roots are developed intentionally over long periods of time. The deeper and more intricate they are, the more likely we are to weather the storms of life and create happiness for ourselves and those around us.
“Underlying all Western modes of analysis is a very strong rationalistic tendency – an assumption that everything can be accounted for.”
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
I can’t be the only one that is thinking that the study of Eastern and Western Philosophy may be a way to bring the chaos of modern civilization into balance. If each of us could spend time considering ways to live more peacefully, the mood of even social media may change for the better.
When I read the quote above, I imagined a bean-counter sitting at his desk picking apart a human consciousness. This is related to this. That is caused by that. Hmm… You can see the animation play out, can’t you?
Some would read this and think, “Yeah, those dumb Western thinkers! Always thinking they can reason their way out of everything, control the outcomes. Not everything has a rational explanation!”
And not everything can, or should be, controlled.
Modern thinking has supposedly thrown out superstitious and spiritual “woo-woo” reasons for what happens in the physical world. In my opinion, it seems we’ve simply replaced it with something far more dangerous, the worship of the state. Voting seems to give government supernatural abilities that are unlimited in scope. We need not worry, think, or reason for ourselves because every few years we vote for someone else to do that for us.
But that’s not what this book is about, or what I came to talk about. It’s just what leaked through my brain as I thought about the quote.
There’s a lot of good that has come from that bend toward rational accountability in Western thought. Christian teaching tells us that God gave us the earth to take care of.
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Taking the reins of life on earth is a big job for humanity. It’s a huge responsibility. The forces of life on earth are great. What if we could control and guide them? What could we accomplish if we drove them instead of rode them?
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible…enter chaos, right? That’s where Eastern thought, and Buddhism specifically, is helping me personally. Could it help all of humanity, like in a balance way, two halves of a whole finally coming together in the modern era?
I think so. Reading this book has only confirmed some of my suspicions about Eastern and Western philosophy and now I want to know more. My Western culture has taught me ambition, responsibility, and reasoning. Can Eastern culture teach me acceptance and peace about the chaos outside?
I’ve been curious about Buddhism and Eastern thought for years and I think it’s about time I spent some serious study in it. I’m still looking for good sources, so if you know of any you’ve had experience with, let me know in the comments.
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The title, “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age,” sounds so deliciously pretentious! I love it!
I take a lot of pleasure in reading but I haven’t taken a “literature” class since public high school and I never had any intention of taking one again. Yes, I’m a bit of a book snob. THAT book is trash, THIS one is a classic. But honestly, I know what one reads is just a matter of personal taste. I’m 40 pages into this and now I want to take an actual class and see what happens. It’s on my to-do list to look a free one up online.
You’re going to laugh, but I’m not much of a deep reader. I choose to read what I like. If I pick up something and I find it too hard to read or unenjoyable for some reason, I put it down. There are just too many books out there to read. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad book or completely useless, though. It just isn’t what I need at the moment. I have started to read things that drove me bonkers and only to come back to them years later and devoured them. Like that guy you knew in high school and fought with daily, but you meet years later and fall in love…shit…too many romance novels lately!
This book is one of those more difficult reads. It has big words! I have to pay closer attention to understand and much of what he’s talking about is beyond me. That’s why I want to take a class. I feel like I understand what I’m reading intuitively but I’d like to understand on a more academic level. I’d like to see what they see and know the historical and philosophical significance of the more serious books that I dive into.
“Literary language is an intricate, inventively designed vehicle for setting the mind in restless pleasing motion, which in the best of cases may give us a kind of experiential knowledge relevant to our lives outside of reading.”
The Pleasures of reading in an ideological age by robert alter
Sometimes we read to get information, like newspapers, nonfiction, magazine articles, and manuals. Sometimes we read to escape from life for a bit; “dime store” novels and pulp fiction. But other times we read to experience a world, a relationship, a feeling outside our own. We use what we learn in those hours of lives glimpsed through the pages of a book in our own lives.
It happened again. I forgot why I put this book on my wishlist. I need a better system. Or do I? Does it really matter where I got the recommendation? I suppose not. I’ve learned to trust my list. It’s there for a reason, so I buy them when I can.
As I sat down to read, I remembered; my mother-in-law had recently shared an article with me that she thought I’d enjoy. We’ve lived together for 18 years and the woman knows me well. She had pulled it out of a magazine and brought it over to me, old school sharing. There is something awesome about that. I have it still sitting on my desk. What do I do with it now? Share it with someone else maybe? By mail? Before the internet, I had a folder of pulled articles like that, some photo-copied and sent from friends and relatives.
“A distinction needs to be made between solitude and loneliness. One chooses solitude, one is afflicted by loneliness.” Alone Again (Unnaturally) by Joseph Epstein – National Review
My favorite line from that article was, “Proust notes that books have over friends that you can call upon them only when you wish and dismiss them at your discretion. Proust also felt that reading could be an aid to solitude, especially to the indolent mind that is unable to think in solitude but requires rubbing up against, through the stimulus of reading, a finer mind than itself.”
Long before all this “social distancing” stuff, I always had a hard time navigating the social world. The past six months has made that much worse. I feel like I simply don’t fit in, not for any specific reason, just in my head more than anything else. But yet I crave conversation, that back and forth with another thinking human. On a weekly basis I cycle through, “I need solitude to think. Thank you, world!” to “But I want to sit in a coffee shop with friends or join a writer’s group!” to “Screw it. People suck!” Books have been my compromise, the “rubbing up against” that I need to spark my own thinking. Books ask for so little in return and they never get in my way, despite how my family feels about the bookcases.
Reading the article, I suddenly felt less lonely and far more secure in my solitude. I immediately went online to look for the author. Maybe he has a website. What else has he written? I love the internet, and especially Amazon, but I found myself longing for a well-stocked bookstore where I could thumb through and pick out the book I liked best, maybe get a cup of coffee and talk to a person…there I go again. I picked this one mostly because of its title. “A Literary Education” is what I’ve been working on for the past ten years.
Do you read the introductions to books? For fiction, I don’t want someone else’s thoughts to color my reaction to a story. Sometimes, I’ll go back and read it though. For non-fiction, or collections, I generally do read them…unless it’s boring!
Last Friday, I really wanted to chill and read my new book, so I went around the house looking for a spot. I’m easily distracted, so I need a very quiet space to read and that is hard to find in the afternoon in a small house with four adults. My husband was still working in our room. My younger son was in his room working on his college classes. And my older son was doing some research on the computer in the livingroom. The perfect scenario!
I gathered my book, glasses, notebook, and a cup of tea and settled myself into my favorite spot on the couch. It was glorious. Right from the start I knew I had the perfect book in my hands.
“Initially my essay collections were divided between what I thought of as literary essays and familiar essays; the former were essays about other writers, the latter about the world at large, or at least those things in it that captured my fancy at the time.”
…drops pencil…what the…other people write about these things?!
There are times when I wonder what the point of my blog is. Ok…I’ll admit…most times I feel that way. But then I come around to, I write about what I like to write about, what I find interesting, and because it makes me happy. I don’t look for and write to a specific audience. I write my point of view, my opinions, my thinking, in the hope that someone out there might want to hear it.
I kept reading for over an hour, smiling and nodding, tearing up and underlining pieces that spoke directly to my poor little writer heart. When my time was up, I marked my place, closed the book, and went off to get dinner started feeling on top of the world. I’d found encouragement to keep working, keep reading, and to keep writing and I wasn’t even looking for it.
Once again, my “follow the trail wherever it leads” way of living has paid off big time. I can’t wait to read more of these essays. And the world will be reading mine as well. I’m not lonely, I’m in solitude, quietly working away in the background building worlds to share.
There are days when I wonder why I even bother reading anything. Today I was especially reminded of how futile it is and yet I persist. Definition of insanity in action.
The last time I went to the movies (to see my beloved Star Wars) I saw a trailer for “Emma” and thought, “Oh man! I have to find some people to go see that with me and if I can’t, I swear, I’ll go see it alone.” It’s not much fun to see movies alone. There’s no one to look at and give a thumbs up or down for each trailer, no one to roll your eyes at during dramatically sickening scenes, and no one to sit and tear apart the movie with directly afterward. Sure, you can do it online but it’s not the same. I will see this movie alone if I have to, but I’m holding out hope for a fellow Jane Austen fan to go with me.
When I saw the trailer and had these crazy thoughts about who to see the movie with (my husband and son definitely will not, although I would have sat through that Ferrari movie if they wanted me to), I thought, “You know, I’m fairly certain I have the book on my shelf at home. I should read it before the movie comes out!” A few days later, I was rummaging through my bookshelves on New Year’s Eve gathering up all the books I’d read throughout the year because I had a strange compulsion to have a picture of them all in one big pile, and there it was, right where I believed it would be.
It doesn’t always happen, you know. I have repurchased books I already have and searched in vain for books I thought about getting but never did. This time I was right, and I was very excited. How clever of me to buy a book in the hopes that I would read it in the future. I found the book at a used bookstore and remember picking it up and thinking that I liked other Jane Austen books, this one would add to my collection!
I set the book on my “to read” shelf and went back to my obsessive gathering and quantifying on New Year’s Eve and then into New Year’s Day. Yesterday morning, I finished my current book and picked up “Emma” to get in a few pages before I ran off to do the laundry only to find…
Eighteen months ago, I had read this book and I had no recollection of it. I flipped through the pages and found my penciled notes inside. Sigh.
What’s the point of reading if I don’t have even the foggiest of notions about what I’ve read less than two years later? It’s not like I was trying to pull up a list of books from memory. I had it in my hand, pulled it off my own bookshelf, and it did not jog my memory in the slightest.
After reading it for an hour this morning, I’m only slightly less depressed. I am recalling the story and the characters as I read. It’s not like the entire book has been banished from my memory. And maybe a second reading like this will help cement it in my mind better.
I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to spend the coming year re-reading books. It would certainly save money! But then…there are so many books on my wish list! Maybe someday I won’t be able to buy any more books and I can start re-reading then.
Oh wow…what a great book. It wasn’t just the story. The story was just good, the author’s little tricks are what really made the book so wonderful. The way he wove history in and related it to his own time was fascinating. The book was set in the 1880’s and written in 1969. The way he started to go in a predictable way and then made it feel like he abruptly re-wrote it. And then…putting himself in the story. It was captivating.
I had some many great quotes underlined. Here are just a couple of my favorites.
“Thus it had come about that she had read far more fiction, and far more poetry, those two sanctuaries of the lonely, than most of her kind. They served as a substitute for experience.”
“There is only one good definition of God; the freedom that allows other freedoms to exist.”
“His future had always seemed to him of vast potential; and now suddenly it was a fixed voyage to a known place.”
Here’s one that is even more relevant today. “Yet this distance, all those abysses unbridged and then unbridgeable by radio, television, cheap travel and the rest, was not wholly bad. People knew less of each other, perhaps, but they felt more free of each other, and so were more individual.”
“We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words.”
“Fiction usually pretends to conform to the reality; the writer puts the conflicting wants in the ring and then describes the fight – but in fact fixes the fight, letting that want he himself favors win.”
There were so many more. I loved every minute of this book.