“Every reader is, when he reads, a reader of his own self. The writer’s work
is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader
to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps
never have seen in himself.”
~ Marcel Proust from Le temps retrouvé [Time Regained]
I love the following quote from Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing. I finished the book awhile ago, but keep going back to parts of it that really hit home with me. That is a particular pleasure when you’ve read a really good book.
“Books help to form us. If you cut me open, you will find volume after volume, page after page, the contents of every one I have ever read, somehow transmuted and transformed into me. Alice in Wonderland, The Magic Faraway Tree. The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Book of Job. Bleak House. Wuthering Heights. The Complete Poems of W H Auden. The Tale of Mr Tod. Howards End. What a strange person I must be. But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books and only the same books as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA.”
I always love that first moment of solitude, when the sound of the birds is suddenly noticed, and the scent of the flowers reminds one of the quiet country pleasures ahead.
~Miss Read, from Village Affairs
Today is my seventieth birthday. In all the old classic books I’ve read, the female characters that are 70 years old are really old ladies. Actually, they are portrayed as really old ladies at age 60! But I don’t feel that old and am probably in better physical condition that I was ten years ago, before I retired, thanks to being able to spend time at the gym and keep a challenging walking schedule on top of that. I’ve had a number of friends who are already well into their seventies and eighties and are very active, involved women so I am inspired to follow in their footsteps.
I embrace this birthday and this new decade! I’d like to read a lot, love a lot, and do what I can for the people around me, and try and make a little bit of difference in this crazy world.
by Mary Oliver
I wish I was twenty and in love with life
and still full of beans.
Onward, old legs!
There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.
Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch
though I’m not twenty
and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.
The quiet of the bay, the subdued easterly blowing across the fields, the belt of winter weed, the glint and warmth of the sun, the solitary bird—there was a sense of old times dead and of new times beginning—recurrence, life, the turn of the sun’s wheel, always the imperative, bright sun.
~ Henry Beston, The Outermost House
My library posted this wonderful quote by David McCullough on Facebook the other day and I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea. It is true that books can change our lives and characters can have tremendous impact on us. In my own experience, I think the book and character of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, read (the first time) when I was in the 7th Grade, had a lifetime impact on me. I read many of the books my older brother read, and I remember that after he finished Jane Eyre he told me he thought I would like that book. I most certainly did! I have vivid memories of scenes and impressions from the book. The strength and resilience of the character, Jane, made a large imprint on my both my heart and my psyche.
Since then, I have found many influential characters and more favorite books. But that first encounter with a character that I admired deeply, and was so influenced by, was a life-expanding experience for me. And for that, it will always be my “favorite book.”
Which is your special book and life-changing character?