Although I am an amateur home cook that struggles to enjoy the daily “what’s for dinner?” question and I also am far from a scientific thinker, I still enjoyed reading some essays about the scientific aspects of the cooking process. The Kitchen as a Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking (to be published January 2012 by Columbia University Press) is a collection of essays edited by Cesar Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik van der Linden. As with other anthologies, I found some essays worked for me and others did not. I skipped about five of the 33 essays, but of the others many were particularly memorable.Continue Reading
I am not as familiar with nineteenth-century American literature as I feel I am with British nineteenth-century literature, especially Victorian fiction. In fact, I don’t recall studying many American classics from the era since my junior year of high school, and I struggle to name classic authors from various decades in American literature. Walden was one book I know I studied in depth in my high school class. I remember I did a group project in which we handed out fortune cookies. Other than that, I don’t remember much about Walden. When Jillian announced a Transcendentalist month (see more details here), I was willing to give this American classic another try.
As most people know, as a young man, Henry David Thoreau left his comfortable home in the village of Concord to live in the woods near Walden Pond. Walden, his collection of his thoughts about his years living a life of simplicity which he called “self-reliance,” has been called one of the greatest books in American literature. Apparently, while Emerson began the concept of finding truth within one’s self, Thoreau was one who put it in to practice in a real way by living the life. He is essential to the transcendentalist movement.
In my case, very little of Walden inspired me. I personally found Thoreau unbearably egotistical and opinionated. There were a few gems here and there, and I did enjoy the beautiful style in which he described the nature around him (to some extent). He certainly was a talented writer and a well-educated man. But I felt there were a few essential issues about his “self-reliance” that left me annoyed, rather than inspired. Because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding transcendentalism, I even found a few essays and a book about the era in American literature to make sure I was interpreting his concepts “properly.” I believe the entire philosophy is simply not one I can subscribe to, although I appreciate aspects of Thoreau’s way of life in the woods.Continue Reading
“We look over with a sigh the monumental libraries … The inspection of the catalgoue brings me continually back to the few standard writers who are on every private shelf; and to these it can only afford only the most slight and casual additions. The crowds and centuries of books are only commentary and elucidation, echoes and weakeners of these few great voices of Time.”
“I find certain books vital and spermatic, not leaving the reader what he was; he shuts the book a richer man. I would never willingly read any others than such.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have often felt this way. I sometimes find myself panicking on how relatively few books I’ll read in my lifetime. Just do the math: if I read ten a month, that’s 120 a year, times another fifty or sixty years. It’s a very small number when put in that perspective.
But really, I do not need to read every book. Emerson’s reminder is comforting to me for that reason. And I love shutting a book and finding myself a richer person. While I sometimes read lighter fare or read quickly, I often still find myself a bit changed by having read the book. In some way, the books I choose give me satisfaction and strength.
Some of the great voices of time that I’ve read: Homer (I do need to reread him again), Shakespeare (I often seeing his familiar story arcs in later works), Charles Dickens’ , Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.So many of the poets I’ve been revisiting this month for poetry month. Poets just do such a great job of capturing emotion and changing me in a short space.
Which authors and/or works are on your private shelf (an imaginary shelf is fine)? Which voices are “the great voices of time” for you?
Reading Reflections is an occasional feature in which I comment on an article or essay about reading. (I haven’t posted one for more than a year, but there is no reason I cannot begin again, right?)
The above quotes are from an essay called “Books” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted on pages 13-14 and 15, respectively, of Reading in Bed, edited by Steven Gilbar.
Upon my third dedicated attempt to read The Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft, I loved it! I was in the right mood to read it, and I gave myself a fixed block of time to get started in it.
However, since I finished reading it on my Kindle app for Android two weeks ago, I accidentally deleted all of the notes and markings I’d made as I read. I had not yet reviewed my notes or typed them out since I’d finished. Therefore, I am now rather stumped as to how to proceed in “reviewing” my impression of Wollstonecraft’s arguments, given that anything I say or quote now may not have been my original thoughts when I first finished reading the book.
This gives me further motivation to read the book again. Wollstonecraft’s prose is rather dense, and she is arguing against Rousseau’s comments and philosophies, which were unfamiliar to me. She seems to me to repeat herself. And yet, much of what Wollstonecraft argued resonated with me. I also loved her bits of sarcasm. Except, given her era, I’m certain she did not intend it to be funny. She’s completely serious.Continue Reading