Sometimes, when he is reading a book he really likes, my husband will re-read passages just for the beauty of it. For my part, I often find myself reading too quickly to thoroughly enjoy the artistic quality of any given story; I’m just too interested in what is going to happen next. (Funny. I think most of us live our lives like that…)
But C. has slowly been teaching me to enjoy a story, to see beyond the action to the way in which an author has crafted a sentence, a scene, in sum, the story. My first experience with this was, oddly enough, in German. We picked up ‘Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer’ by Patrick Suskind on a train trip taken during the summer. (I no longer remember where we were headed, just that the weather was perfect, the landscape green, the sky a cloudless blue and we were falling in love.)
The first sentence (at least in German) takes up two pages. Whimsical and lovely, it describes how the author could have flown when he was younger had he not been told he couldn’t. (An example of this whimsy- here is an excerpt from his learning to ride a bike: I don’t remember how long it took me to master the dark art of riding a bicycle. All I remember is that I learned it by myself, with a mixture of unwillingness and grim resolve, on my mother’s bicycle, on a slightly sloping forest track where no one could see me…And one time, after many failed attempts, surprisingly suddenly really, I cracked it. I could move – in spite of all my theoretical doubts and my powerful scepticism – freely on two wheels: a mystifying and proud sensation.) My German, while good, is not equal to C’s and his guidance helped me to enjoy the beauty of the written prose.
Guidance to enjoy prose; which brings me to another book I recently read and now wish to share with E. ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster is a lovely story about a boy who does nothing, goes nowhere and is generally unsatisfied. He receives an anonymous gift of a tollbooth through which he drives his toy car and has wonderful adventures in Dictionopolis (the city of words) and Digitopolis (the city of numbers) and learns to take responsibility for his own amusement.
I love the words in this book, the way the author uses them to describe old ideas to make them new again. After E. is finished reading the Narnia series with his father, I will read him this book and relish both his delight and mine as we discover the beauty in the written word. And maybe learn to slow down a bit.
Here is a sampling of quotes from the book:
- It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time.
- Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.
- There are no wrong roads to anywhere.
- Expect everything, I always say, and the unexpected never happens.
- Why not? That’s a good reason for almost anything – a bit used perhaps, but still quite servicable.
- The way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from.
- There is much worth noticing that often escapes the eye.
- If you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself.
- Many of the things which can never be, often are.
- You know that it’s there, but you just don’t know where – but just because you can never reach it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth looking for.
- Whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else.
- What you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.
- So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.