A Monday Morning Realization

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Booking Through Thursday last week revolved around "what is literature"?

Bill, over at Apologia threw out the question for his smart readers on my behalf. Go over there, and to the comments on the BTT entry below, to read what was said. It made me start thinking, and looking at my shelves.

I don't think that I actually OWN much "literature". Since I started clearing out my shelves, and keeping only those things which I think I might have even a remote chance of rereading, I find that I have gotten rid of many things which I read because I should have read them. Not that I didn't enjoy them, but I was never going to dip into them again.

It makes my library look very pedestrian. When I look at my shelves I realize how very "un-intellectual" I am (is that even a word?). No pretensions for me any longer. Now I know how much of what I had I kept for show--to impress others, maybe?--versus what I really loved. Now my bookshelves are a more accurate reflection of me.

Yes, there are some "classics" there. All three volumes of The Divine Comedy sit there. All of Jane Austen. A good bit of Twain. A fair amount of Dickens. A volume of plays by Sophocles. Tolkien. Lewis. Flannery O'Connor. Charles Williams. Brideshead Revisited.

But what else is there? All of Jon Hassler. Lots of Richard Russo. Howard Frank Mosher. Maybe they're "literature in the making". The Jeeves and Blandings novels by Wodehouse (why is it harder to think of humor as literature?)

And then all the books I'll never be talked out of, even if they're not literature: The Forsyte Saga, Angela Thirkell, the many volumes of Louis deWohl's work, Georgette Heyer, Rafael Sabatini, the great Samuel Shellabarger. And Horatio Hornblower, the Master and Commander series, and Susan Howatch. The Mapp and Lucia novels. Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett. The Precious Ramotswe books. Even the first four volumes of the series about Father Tim by Jan Karon. Literature? Comfort food? I think probably the latter in the view of the world, but for me? They are the "desert island" books of my fiction collection.

Interesting. It's been a lesson in humility for me to realize how very unenlightened I remain, after all these years of reading. Humbling, and freeing. It's not that I won't stretch my wings to read things that I "oughta". But I'm grown up enough now, at 52, to realize that I don't have to pretend any longer to love what I don't. I can learn from it, enjoy it, and pass it on. From here on out, if I wouldn't take it to my desert island, it's not staying on my shelves.

What do you think?


I think that you would get a great laugh out of my bookshelves. Having moved twice in the last 8 years, and having purged over a thousand books with each move, we are moving closer to a collection that truly reflects who we are. And it includes the complete science fiction works of Robert A Heinlein as well as autographed copies of most of Scott Hahn. My complete set of the Time Life classic "Foods of the World" (which I reread periodically) and antique medical textbooks. When I was much younger, an elder realtive commented to me that I had a catholic taste in reading. It took another relative to explain to me the difference between catholic and Catholic, a lesson which has remained with me for life.
Literature? Well. much of what we have is currently being read by the youngest child (who is a liberal arts major in college). Some of it is remnants from my husband's college days as well. I am not so sure that I currently appreciate a lot of 'literature' - despite (or perhaps because) the fact my BA is in Literature....



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This page contains a single entry by MamaT published on April 7, 2008 12:15 PM.

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