What is it about books? We can read maybe 2/day on average, if we do nothing else but read, yet we bibliophiles are always bringing new books home, far more than anyone could read in a year. My sister and I went to Goodwill today and came out with ~$45-worth of books, 2 big bags of them. Roughly 20 of them came home with me, so while I finished one book today, so far, I have a decidedly positive flux of books into my apartment, still (more books entering than leaving).
We found lots of good books, more than we brought home, of course, so I am now torn between reading library books, reading the books I borrowed from my brother, mom and sister, and reading the new bag of books next to my reading chair. For now I am reading a library book while glancing over at the new books after every chapter.
I finally finished Saint Francis, by Nikos Kazantzakis, after hours of struggling to stay focused on reading it. It started well, and I even found a passage I liked enough to post it as a quote on the Ravenmount Books tumblr page. I was amused by the comparison between the boys in the last book I read (Rope & Bone) and Leo and Francis in this book. And, at first, the mysticism Francis promoted reminded me of the sort of stuff Hermann Hesse wrote about. I like Hesse a lot, so that seemed like a good sign.
By halfway through the book, I felt sorry for Leo, because he lacked the guts to stand up to Francis and because he was too willing to believe the crap Francis said. I felt sorry for Francis too, because if he had been born in our age, he could have received treatment for his bipolar disorder and paranoid/delusional symptoms. His story is a great illustration of how mental illness played out in the eras before modern psychology existed, but that was hardly Kazantzakis’ point, I think. I’m not sure he would be offended at my reading of his book, either, but his story about Francis is written very much like Hesse’s story of Joseph Knecht, and in both cases the point is to relate the wonderful and unique life of a saint. I liked Knecht, and could have happily been his follower, depending on his agenda and expectations of course, but with Francis, I am mildly disturbed at the thought that such a character was the foundation of a whole religious order. What Francis preaches in this book comes across to me as a mixture of wild ravings, pure evil and death-oriented philosophy, and a strange bit of aesthetic appreciation of nature. I suppose there are Zen perspectives through which one might reconcile all of this into a coherent and non-evil philosophy, but it would be easier to just stick with Zen.
I also felt pity, anger and frustration at the way Francis and his followers thought about women. I know that men in our modern world understand women just about as poorly, and fear women as a result, so it is not just Francis, or Kazantzakis, but a whole culture and philosophy, through which men and women are made out to be such different creatures that they cannot be treated as members of the same species who happen to have different reproductive plumbing. I did like that Francis allowed Clara and his own mother to become brothers in the order he was somewhat reluctantly creating, but the discussion surrounding letting these women join revealed a side of Francis and his culture and philosophy that is qiute ugly.
Lastly, I found the idea that one’s body is something to be scorned and destroyed disgusting. If you believe in a God, and one who intentionally created you, since when does it follow that the body you were given is bad, or deserving of abuse? Is that not second-guessing God, assuming that he did not really intend for you to have or enjoy the life you believe he gave you? Similarly, since your body has sexual organs and taste receptors and other features designed to give you pleasure, if God created you and gave you not only your body, but a world in which your body is well-suited to enjoying the rest of that God’s creation, what gives you the right to decide that the parts of your body that allow you to enjoy food, sex, etc. are bad? It is a twisted, evil, death oriented philosophy that is calculated to glorify and rationalize misery in a world where joy is still possible.
I am still bristling a bit from that last book, clearly, but I always stay bristly for a while after reading such philosophies. In the meantime, while I simmer down, I am readin a book from the library- The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree, by Susan Wittig Albert. This is the first book in a series, and I already read the 4th book, The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star. This mystery series is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. The Darling Dahlias are a women’s gardening club in Darling, Alabama, roughly 30 miles from Mobile. The author does a good job of representing life in the Deep South in this era. Her characters are fun and realistic, and I really enjoyed the story in the last one I read. I have a few other books checked out by the same author, so I may read those next.
I picked up all of these Susan Wittig Albert books as part of my Read Your Library Challenge efforts. Last year I decided I would attempt to read ‘all’ the books in my local branch public library. When we go to a library we don’t really see all the books, because we see the ones we recognize as interesting and all the rest become background. While I was out in the music scene in Fort Collins, I spent almost every Tuesday night at an open mic where every act got the same 20 minute chance to perform. We had professional musicians, new musicians who had ever performed on a stage before, let alone with a live microphone, and everything in between. At first I knew no one, and even after 2 years I was still coming across amazing talent I knew nothing about, every week or so. I wish there was something similar for books.
But there is, in a way, in the form of a library. If one were to just read ALL the books in the library, without prejudging and selecting them, one could come across unfamiliar great books and authors in much the same way as music critics come across music and musicians at open mics. The challenge is really ‘just’ that books take many hours to read, while I can listen to a 20 minute set and know that I am interested in hearing a full show by a musician. Still, I figure if I start on the ‘A’s and work my way through the alphabet, I will come across authors I like, that my friends have not yet read or recommended to me, and that I can tell the world about on my trusty blog. The challenge is open to other readers too, of course- if you want to participate, it is as easy as starting on the ‘A’s of your own local library (or wherever you prefer to start. You can post reviews of the books you read on your own blog, on Goodreads, on other blogging/social media sites and/or as comments on my own posts. I write regular Read Your Library Challenge posts on a site called PersonaPaper, but I will of course also be talking a lot about my RYLC books here on my own blog.