Monday, December 15, 2008

i live to learn

"I do not read to think.
I do not read to learn.
I do not read to search for truth
I know the truth, the truth is hardly what I need.
I read to dream.
I read to live. In other people's lives.
I read about the joys, the world
Dispenses to the fortunate,
And listen for the echoes.
I read to live,
To get away from life!"

One of the more tragic figures of the American state is Fosca in Passion. The quote above is hers in response to another character's suggestion that she should have kept a copy of a novel to meditate on it.

Late last month, I noted in
could you help me place this call? that I had just finished reading American Front, the first novel in Harry Turtledove's trilogy of an alternate history of the First World War. The full set includes a total of ten books taking the story line past the Second World War.

Even though I noted that American Front was not very good, I ordered the full set from Amazon -- in addition to his novel that started the series: How Few Remain: A Novel of the Second War Between the States.

I wish I had read this book before I started the series. It is much better than American Front. The characters actually have depth. And, even though the plot is a bit fantastic (by its very nature as alternate history), it occasionally approaches literary status.

And that matters to me. Unlike Fosca, I do not read to escape: I read to learn -- about the human condition, for exactly the same reason I read biographies and histories.

I suspect that most people can learn far more about humanity by reading Hamlet as they can by reading Freud -- perhaps, more.

But authors like John Jakes, Tom Clancy, or John Grisham do not even bother to tell us much about who we are. They are tellers of tales with cardboard characters substituted for real souls. Any search for Truth is simply futile.

The sole reason I picked up the Turtledove books was its tangential inclusion of Guaymas as a plot device. Unfortunately, I learned nothing about Mexico -- other than the Mexicans and Apaches were hostile to one another.

But I did enjoy this bit of wit between a reporter (Herndon) and editor Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain):

"Even the common, garden-variety earthquakes are bad enough," Herndon said with a shudder. "Makes me queasy just thinking about 'em." He deliberately and obviously changed the subject: "What's the War news?"

"They're killing people," Sam said, and let it go at that.

Any author who can be that concise understands something very basic about who we are.

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