Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reading Update

While I'm happy to be back at work, all this reading of student work leaves me little time for my own reading and writing. But I have been doing some reading, and here's the latest.

Book #57 was a YA title recommended by my daughter, East, by Edith Pattou. This is a retelling of the fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," which in turn is a version of the Psyche myth. It has the combination of ordinary reality and mysterious magic that is perfect for a fairy tale.
And I realized how much more complicated life is without the benefit of magic. Rubbing linseed oil into my blistered hands, I thought wistfully of how magic lets you skip over the steps of things. That is what makes it so appealing.

But, I thought, the steps of things are where life is truly found, in doing the day-to-day tasks. Caught up in the world of enchantment as I had been at the castle, it had been the routine things I had missed most, which was why I had set up that laundry room and insisted on doing my own washing. But I had missed so much. Sitting at the table back home and peeling potatoes with my mother and sisters in a companionable silence. Feeding the chickens, their urgent feathery bodies crowding my legs, and looking up to see Neddy coming back from the fields.

Book #58 was an old favorite, The Horse and his Boy, by C.S. Lewis. No books are as good as these, with all their associations from the dozen times I have read them, starting as a very young child. None of the writing I've read more recently about how this book is racist and Orientalist can take away my love for it - even though I do see some of the points the critics are making. (I'm not linking to anything because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone else, but you can easily find what I'm talking about, I'm sure.) The whole point of this book is that Aslan is there all along, even when you aren't aware of him and even when you are actively against the idea of him. And here, too, is the mixture of ordinary reality and magic - Lewis does that better than anyone.
She led the way down the steps they had already descended, and along another corridor and so finally out into the open air. They were now in the palace garden which sloped down in terraces to the city wall. The moon shone brightly. One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them; so that Aravis (though she remembered them years later) had only a vague impression of grey lawns, quietly bubbling fountains, and the long black shadows of cypress trees.
Come on, now. How can you not love that?

This post is linked to the October 16th edition of the Saturday Review of Books.

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