You might remember that my goal at the start of 2015 was to read 50 books this year. While it would have been fun to have had a list written out for the year with some specific books in mind, I don't have the luxury of a reliable library at the moment and I'm trying (key word!) not to buy too many books while we're over here. I've gone the more spontaneous route and am reading whatever I can get my hands on: used bookstore bargains, new bookstore non-bargains, loans from friends, and the occasional order on Amazon Spain. I'm halfway through this year's goal! Here are books twenty-five and twenty-six.
BOOK TWENTY-FIVE: Trying to Save Piggy Sneed by John Irving. This book of short stories was my first introduction to Irving's writing, though I had heard of two of his other books, A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules. I think it was a good introduction. My favorite story was "Weary Kingdom" where all is not what it seems, and there is a river of emotion and longing for adventure running beneath an older dorm mother's otherwise quiet and unassuming persona.
BOOK TWENTY-SIX: How Fiction Works by James Wood. This book is one that could be used in a high school English classroom or a beginning or upper level English college course to discuss both the basics and the complexities of literature. From high school to upper level college courses probably seems like a big range of knowledge and experience, but I think that this book would prove helpful and insightful whether a beginner to studying English lit or someone who has a few years of experience under her belt. I loved how Wood divided the chapters on dialogue, characters, etc. up into sub-sections, which made it extra-approachable. I definitely didn't do a thorough read of it--there's a lot of depth and analysis--but I got a lot out of it, nonetheless. (Perhaps one of the biggest things I got out of it is that I have some big gaps in my reading!) A few of my favorite passages/quotes (all emphasis mine):
"Every metaphor or simile is a little explosion of fiction within the larger fiction of the novel or story."
"...one finds that...it is a commonplace that sympathetic identification with characters is in some way dependent on fiction's true mimesis: to see a world and its fictional people truthfully may expand our capacity for sympathy in the actual world."
"The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies...Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellowman beyond the bounds of our personal lot." (Quoting George Eliot)
The final quote, taken from George Eliot, is one of those quotes that if I ever teach English again (big if, though not out of the realm of possibility), that quote will be on my wall. And even with my own kids one day, when they're wondering why reading is important, I'm gonna whip this one out...in simplified form, of course. It's like Atticus Finch so wisely said, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." I'm finding more and more that our worlds expand, our knowledge of and love for our neighbor can grow when we read, when we extend "our contact with our fellowman beyond the bounds of our personal lot."