Reading Reflections (Reading Old Books) + Reading Journal (31 March)

I have more confidence in the dead than in the living.
—William Hazlitt

William Hazlitt was a contemporary of William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge, not to mention Jane Austen. He was considered one of the most important critics and essayists of the English language, although he is little read today (see Wikipedia).

I love his sentiments on reading old books, for I feel similarly. He comments that with contemporary authors, we’re distracted by their life and opinions, and they can be either for good or ill. With dead authors, if you want to know about them “you have only to look into their works.” When I read, I don’t want to interview an author and learn about their inspiration. Normally, I just want to read their books.

I also take issue with much modern literature, simply because I don’t like read about sex in books. It has to be really tastefully done for me not be annoyed. The sex in The Masterpiece was thus tastefully done. The sex in (the abandoned) Norwegian Wood – not so much.

At any rate, this quote from Hazlitt rang true to me this week:

The dust and smoke and noise of modern literature have nothing in common with the pure, silent air of immortality.

Does a modern author’s life influence your read of their books? What about a dead author’s life? Which do you prefer: the old or the new? I do like modern books, I’m just picky about which ones.

(The above quote is from “On Reading Old Books” by William Hazlitt, written in the early 1820s, quoted page 7 of Reading in Bed, edited by Steven Gilbar. Read it online here. Part of the essay is also about rereading old favorites, but that will have to be a subject for another time.)


Reading Journal (31 March)

In the last two weeks, I went nine days without finishing a book (I was reading but the books were longer) and then I finished a number of things in the last few days! Some were short, and others I’d been working on for a while. I also abandoned a number of books for various reasons. Some I want to return to. Others I wish I’d never attempted.

Finished

  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson (140 pages; fiction).
  • The Book of Mormon (530 pages; religious/scripture). This was my project book this month. As it is a reread and this blog is not a religious one, I won’t be” reviewing” it.
  • Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller (190 pages; nonfiction, graphic novel).
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare (170 pages; drama). Love love love this!
  • The Masterpiece by Emile Zola (425 pages; fiction). For the April Classics Circuit. I am not a huge fan of Zola, I’ve decided.

Abandoned Reading

  • Japan: A Concise History by Milton Walter Meyer (87 read of 300; nonfiction). I didn’t have time to dedicate to it.
  • A History of Japanese Literature: From the Manyoshu to Modern Times by Shuichi Kato, abridged by Don Sanderson.  (ISBN: 1873410484) (30 pages read of 320 pages; nonfiction). This is a great abridgement of Kato’s three-volume tome. I may request this again and read more in a few months.
  • Genome by Matt Ridley. For my genetics themed month, but I just didn’t have time to get to it.
  • Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami (about 140 read of 290; fiction). This book had too much sex, an example of the typical modern fiction I don’t want to read. I only read so much because it is a well-written book in general. Are any other Murakami books less full of sex? Sensuality doesn’t bother me.
  • A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (25 read of 40 pages; fiction). I wanted to read this out loud to my son but he is apparently not interested. I’m pondering different chapter books I can try.

Currently Reading

Each week, I list my progress so I can see how my reading compares week to week.

  • Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and Their Messages by Karen Lynn Davidson (140 read of 455 pages; nonfiction). I really do enjoy reading this and singing the hymns as I go; I just go slowly, so it’s still here on the list!
  • Reading in Bed edited by Steven Gilbar (nonfiction/essays). A collection of essays about our favorite topic: reading. Occasionally, I’ll post some thoughts about an essay for the Reading Reflections feature. (See above, for example!)
  • Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki (65 read of 230 pages; fiction). My next Japanese novel since the Murakami I picked up was a no-go for me.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, P&V translation. I have not yet begun.
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I haven’t begun yet.

New Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

None! I’ve been trying to reign in my out-of-control library use, and also read books off of my shelf.

Finds

  • Governess: The Life and Times of Real Jane Eyres by Ruth Braddon. Chris at book-a-rama. Perfect for the Our Mutual Read challenge.
  • The Evolution of Language by W. Tecumseh Fitch. Mentioned by Aarti in a comment.
  • The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. Stefanie and Emily in a comment.
  • Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers. Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot. Perfect for Women Unbound Challenge, except I can’t find it in my library!!
  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. A manga novel?! On my list? See Jason’s awesome post about this (Called “Responsible Escapism in Literature”)

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. It was a huge surprise for me, but I actually really really love Zola so far. I’m 200 of 500 pages in and part of me doesn’t want to move on because I know it’s going to be tragic and I love these characters so much I don’t want to see them in pain. I was so scared of this book and it’s just been brilliant. I love it so much. It already has potential to become one of my favorite classics and I’m not even halfway through!
    .-= Amanda´s last post on blog ..Ink Notes – Submissions & Decision =-.

    1. Amanda, somehow that doesn’t surprise me. I know you liked THE STRANGER and LORD OF THE FLIES and the Zola I read seemed to capture the meaningless of life, the discouraging realistic things that happen. Hearing that does make me want to read it too, though, quite a recommendation from Amanda (thus far at least). [I’m assuming you’re reading Germinal because that’s on the schedule…]

      1. I wonder if Germinal (yes, that’s the one I’m reading) is better than the one you read. I know it’s supposed to be considered his masterpiece or his best work. It doesn’t feel at all like The STranger or Lord of the Flies. More like Dickens except you know it’s all going to turn out badly. I’m actually glad I’m starting with the supposed best of his work.
        .-= Amanda´s last post on blog ..Ink Notes – Submissions & Decision =-.

  2. I love old books, too! I even love old editions of books that are more “modern.” I don’t actually think this has anything to do with the author for me. I think I have just always loved history, and that seeps into my reading.

    I generally take issue with the idea that older is better, just because it’s older. I think there is a lot of modern literature that is good, but we just have to sift through the not-so-great that won’t last first.

    I am the same, though- not a fan of the sex in books, gratuitously.
    .-= Aarti´s last post on blog ..Review: High Rising =-.

    1. Aarti, I love history too so I don’t mind learning about older authors, but sometimes I’m a bit turned off by learning more about modern authors. Not sure why. I’m just hard to sell on modern stuff. And I know you’re right that it’s not necessarily better just for being older — I just suspect there is a reason some things remain in print for hundreds of years!

      And I guess I’d just rather let others sift through the modern stuff right now….

  3. I used to feel like you about old versus new books, although for me it never had to do with sex (I love a good sex scene, actually). In fact, I used to be even more militant, basically writing off anything that hadn’t already stood the test of time. I figured, there are already more classics than I’ll ever be able to read – why not focus on them rather than taking a risk on new books? And then someone said to me, “What if you had been living in 1925, when Mrs. Dalloway came out? You would have missed it. It wouldn’t have the chance to change your life.” So now I read modern books as well, and some of my very favorite authors (Peter Carey, Marilynne Robinson, Arundhati Roy) are currently living. Which is kind of exciting to me, because it means I might actually be able to see them read someday!

    There are Murakami books with no sex or very little sex. But most do have violence. Take your pick.
    .-= Emily´s last post on blog ..Essay Mondays: Borges =-.

    1. Emily, I think I am currently in the midst of the militant stage, just because I feel I have to catch up on on the old stuff before I get to the new. But I TOTALLY see what you’re saying with the MRS DALLOWAY analogy, and that’s why I’ll still try to sneak in the new stuff now and then.

      It sounds like MAYBE Murakami is not for me.

  4. I love a mix of old and new, but I do find old books more reliable, because they have stood the test of time.

    I read an essay by C.S. Lewis a while back in which he talks about old books being important because the writers have different prejudices and mind-sets from us. Reading books from those other perspectives helps us correct the errors inherent in our own modern perspectives. And that sounds not unlike Hazlitt’s perspective. I’ll have to read the whole essay when I get a chance!
    .-= Teresa´s last post on blog ..The Two Towers: LOTR Book 4 =-.

    1. Teresa, I’m a big fan of books that are still known after a long time! It sounds like an interesting Lewis essay. I like that idea.

      Hazlitt also talks about revisiting old favorites, but since I kind of mentioned that in my EAST OF EDEN post, I thought I’d look at the OLD books side today.

  5. I read older books, usually, but I have to admit it has to do with my own personal hangups, mostly. I tend to think (stupidly, honestly) of my books as relationships with the writer, and having a personally defined relationship with someone who one might meet is… awkward. I mean, if I MET, say, Emily Dickinson, right now? That would be real, real bad. I’d creep her out, or I’d be stilted and off-kilter, one of the two. Once something is history, it has the mutability that fiction has, to be what we need it to be, I think. I just don’t have the courage to love a thing that might be alive to hate me back, I guess.

    I’m so glad you’re reading Emma! It’s a wonderful book :).
    .-= Jason Gignac´s last post on blog ..Responsible Escapism in Literature =-.

    1. Jason, THAT is exactly why I don’t want to invite an author to my blog. How embarassing if I read a book for their tour and hated it? Or loved it? Either way, they are reading my thoughts….

      I haven’t started Emma or even checked it out yet, but your thoughts certainly did get it on my list. 🙂

  6. I like to read old and new books. I don’t really care what the new author’s life is like but I am fascinated by the biographies of dead writers and like to know a little about them when I read their books. Isn’t the Hazlitt essay great? I really liked that one.
    .-= Stefanie´s last post on blog ..Vertigo =-.

    1. Stefanie, I don’t care about a new author’s life either but I really do like the dead writer’s biographies sometimes too. Wilkie Collins really fascinated me

  7. I like to read old and new books, but I feel like blogging has schewed me more towards new books, so I’m consciously correcting that this year. I’ve been reading more classics, rather like how I used to read, and it makes me so happy! 🙂
    .-= Eva´s last post on blog ..Jesus (thoughts) =-.

    1. Eva, Interesting. I think I’ve found more classics because of blogging and that’s the way my reading has become skewed…..Classics make me happy too 🙂

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