Tag Archives: goofy ideas about reading classic novels

Three Books at Once

No, this isn’t some kind of multiple-book book review.  This is an ungodly silly claim that I can actually read three books at once.  Silly, but true.

Now I don’t claim to be a three-armed mutant with six eyes or anything.  And I am relatively sure I only have one brain.  But, remember, I was a school teacher who could successfully maintain a lesson thread through discussions that were supposed to be about a story by Mark Twain, but ventured off to the left into whether or not donuts were really invented by a guy who piloted a ship and stuck his pastries on the handles of the ships’ wheel, thus making the first donut holes, and then got briefly lost in the woods of a discussion about whether or not there were pirates on the Mississippi River, and who Jean Lafitte really was, and why he was not the barefoot pirate who stole Cap’n Crunch’s cereal, but finally got to the point of what the story was really trying to say.  (How’s that for mastery of the compound sentence?)  (Oh, so you could better?  Really?  You were in my class once, weren’t you.)  I am quite capable of tracking more than one plot at the same time.  And I am not slavishly devoted to finishing one book before I pick up the next.

I like reading things the way I eat a Sunday dinner… a little meatloaf is followed by a fork-full of mashed potatoes, then back to meat, and some green peas after that…  until the whole plate is clean.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is the meatloaf.  I have read it before, just as I have probably had more meatloaf in my Iowegian/Texican  lifetime than any other meat dish.  It’s pretty much a middle-America thing.  And Treasure Island is the second book I ever read.  So you can understand how easy a re-read would be.  I am reading it mostly while I am sitting in the high school parking lot waiting to pick up the Princess after school is out.

fbofw1Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse is also an old friend.  I used to read it in the newspaper practically every day.  I watched those kids grow up and have adventures almost as if they were members of my own family.  So the mashed potatoes part of the meal is easy to digest too.

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So that brings me to the green peas.  Green peas are good for you.  They are filled with niacin and folic acid and other green stuff that makes you healthier, even though when the green peas get mashed a bit and mix together with the potatoes, they look like boogers, and when you are a kid, you really can’t be sure.  Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter wrote this book The Long War together.  And while I love everything Terry Pratchett does, including the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, I am having a hard time getting into this one.  Parts of it seem disjointed and hard to follow, at least at the beginning.  It takes work to choke down some of it.  Peas and potatoes and boogers, you know.

But this isn’t the first time I have ever read multiple books at the same time.  In fact, I don’t remember the last time I finished a book and the next one wasn’t at least halfway finished too.  So it can be done.  Even by sane people.

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Tess of the D’Urbervilles (by Thomas Hardy)

9781411433267_p0_v1_s260x420I decided I wanted to be a novelist because of Charles Dickens.  I loved the way he told a story with vivid characters, rising and falling crises, and story arcs that arrive at a happily-ever-after, or a how-sad-but-sweet-the-world-is ultimate goal.  Sometimes he reached both destinations with the same story, like in David Copperfield or The Old Curiosity Shop.  I have wanted to write like that since I read The Old Curiosity Shop in 9th Grade.

Thomas Hardy has a lot in common with Chuck.  I mean, more than just being old Victorian coots.  Hardy knows the Wessex countryside, Blackmoor and Casterbridge with the depth and understanding that Dickens bestows on London.  Hardy can delineate a character as clearly and as keenly as Dickens, as shown by Diggory Venn, the Reddleman in Return of the Native, or Tess Durbyfield in the novel I am reading at the moment.  These characters present us with an archetypal image and weave a story around it that speaks to themes with soul-shaking depth.  Whereas Dickens will amuse and make us laugh at the antics of the Artful Dodger or Mr. Dick or Jerry Cruncher from a Tale of Two Cities, Hardy makes us feel the ache and the sadness of love wrecked by conflict with the corrupt and selfish modern world.  Today I read a gem of a scene with the three milkmaids, Izz, Retty, and Marian looking longingly out the window at the young gentleman Angel Clare.  Each wants the young man to notice her and fall in love with her.  Sad-faced Izz is a dark-haired and brooding personality.  Round-faced Marian is more jolly and happy-go-lucky.  Young Retty is entirely bound up by shyness and the uncertainty of youth.  Yet each admits to her crush and secret hopes.  Tess, meanwhile, overhears all of it, all the time knowing that Angel is falling in love with her.  And worse yet, she has sworn to herself never to let another man fall in love with her because of the shameful way Alec D’Urberville took advantage of her, a quaint old phrase that in our time would mean date rape.  There is such bittersweet nectar to be had in the characterizations and plots of these old Victorian novels.  They are more than a hundred years old, and thus, not easy to read, but worth every grain of effort you sprinkle upon it.  I am determined now to finish rereading Tess of the Durbervilles, and further determined to learn from it, even if it kills me.

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