Hi everyone. I have read four new books. Well, some of them are young. Others are big, others are puny, and others are from before I existed.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
“Together they studied the soap ad. ‘”With new radiant action,”‘ repeated Charlotte, slowly. ‘Wilbur!’ she called. Wilbur, who was asleep in the straw, jumped up. ‘Run around!’ commanded Charlotte. ‘I want to see you in action, to see if you are radiant.’ Wilbur raced to the end of his yard. ‘Now back again, faster! ‘ said Charlotte. Wilbur galloped back. His skin shone. His tail had a fine, tight curl in it. ‘Jump into the air!’ cried Charlotte. Wilbur jumped as high as he could. ‘Keep your knees straight and touch the ground with your ears!’ called Charlotte. Wilbur obeyed. ‘Do a back flip with a half twist in it!’ cried Charlotte. Wilbur went over backwards, writhing and twisting as he went. ‘O.K., Wilbur,’ said Charlotte. ‘You can go back to sleep. O.K., Templeton, the soap ad will do, I guess. I’m not sure Wilbur’s action is exactly radiant, but it’s interesting.'”
My dad read this classic children’s book to me when I was very young. I saw the movie, I saw the movie sequel, and I saw the movie sequel’s sequel. I guess you could call me a big fan.
This book was a joy to revisit. In case you haven’t heard, it’s about a pig named Wilbur who lives on a farm and befriends a spider named Charlotte. The farmer wants to kill Wilbur to sell him for pork. Wilbur is understandably terrified. Charlotte helps Wilbur survive by weaving webs with words in them (such as “terrific” and “radiant”).
Here are a few things that I noticed on the re-read that I didn’t notice on my initial romp through. First, humans are so gullible in that they always refer to Wilbur with the exact words Charlotte wove into her web. It’s like she can brainwash them. She weaves the word “Terrific” and they say, “What a terrific pig!” She weaves the word “Radiant” and they say, “That Wilbur sure is looking radiant today!” and so on. It’s pretty amusing.
I was also struck by some of the book’s musings on mortality. E.B. White weaves (pun intended) this into the book so subtly you barely notice it’s there (at least, I barely noticed it when I read it as a kid). It’s only on the re-read that you truly come to appreciate this part of the book.
The Collected Letters of Jack London By Jack London
“From the hunger of my childhood, cold eyes have looked upon me, or questioned, or snickered and sneered. What hurt above all was that some were my friends– not professed but real friends. I have calloused my exterior and receive the strokes as though they were not; as to how they hurt, no one knows but my own soul and me. So be it. The end is not yet. If I die I shall die hard, fighting to the last, and hell shall receive no fitter inmate than myself. But for good or ill it shall be as it has been– alone [….] I don’t care if the whole present, all I possess, were swept away from me– I will build a new present. If I am left naked and hungry to-morrow– before I give in I will go on naked and hungry; if I were a woman I would prostitute myself to all men but that I would succeed– in short, I will.”
Well, I finished this goliath, as promised in my last post. It had so many letters from Jack London within. They range from when he was just starting out (1898 ish) to when he died in 1916. As a result, they convey a lot about London as he develops into the writer we all know and read.
Some interesting points from the letters: he contradicts himself a lot, yet declares steadfastly that he is committed to telling the truth. Also, at one point he seems to call it quits with his daughter Joan (saying that he no longer takes any interest in her upbringing), only to later on confess that he is interested in seeing her and learning how she is doing. Such contradictions seem to be the essence of humanity. They’re fascinating to read about in other people when you’re so unconscious of them in yourself.
With Borges By Alberto Manguel
“Absent from the apartment’s bookshelves were his own books. He would proudly tell visitors who asked to see an early edition of his works that he didn’t possess a single volume that carried his ’eminently forgettable’ name. Once, when I was visiting, the postman brought a large parcel containing a deluxe edition of his story ‘The Congress,’ published in Italy by Franco Maria Ricci. It was a huge book, bound and cased in black silk with gold-leaf lettering and printed on handmade blue Fabriano paper, each illustration (the story had been illustrated with Tantric paintings) hand-tipped and each copy numbered. Borges asked me to describe it. He listened carefully and then exclaimed: ‘But that’s not a book, that’s a box of chocolates!’ and proceeded to make a gift of it to the embarrassed post-man.”
This book is much smaller than a box of chocolates. It’s only 100 pages long. I measured it just for kicks. It’s 4 by 7 inches big. You can’t get much punier than that.
Onto the book itself. Apparently when he was older, the famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges went blind, and invited strangers to read to him. The author of this memoir was one of those people. He read to Borges when he was a teenager. This book gives fantastic insight into Borges’ personality and writing. You really feel like you knew the writer once you finished it. It’s a pretty quick read, too. It took me less than an hour. It was worth it, though, and now I want to read Borges.
*Bonus: translation of Borges’ quote in the Gif: “I am unfortunately sentimental. I am a very sensitive man. When I write I try to have a certain modesty. And as I write through symbols I never make direct confessions. People think that that symbolism corresponds to a coldness, but it is not so. It is completely the opposite. That symbolism is a form of modesty, and of emotion, of course.” and here’s a link to the video it’s taken from.
Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics by Hegel
“But even if we abstract from an objective principle of art, and if beauty is to be based on subjective and individual taste, we shall still soon find on the side of art itself that the imitation of nature, which certainly appeared to be a universal principle and one guaranteed by high authority, is at any rate, not to be accepted for this universal and merely abstract form. For if we look at the different arts it will at once be admitted that even if painting and sculpture represent objects which appear like those of nature, or the type of which is essentially borrowed from nature, yet works of architecture […] and the productions of poetry, in as far as they do not confine themselves to mere description, are by no means to be called imitations of nature [….] The end of art must, therefore, lie in something different from the purely formal imitation of what we find given, which in any case can bring to the birth only tricks and not works of art.”
That’s all you basically need to know from this book. While it’s mildly-interesting to read through once, I would hate to take a class where I had to read and re-read this book for study. Two other points of note: Content and form are of equal importance to the production of great art, and irony, while interesting, does not give a subject its full dimensions of meaning.
Other points of less note: Hegel is roundabout and obscure, but his ideas are worth considering in an age where it seems that style is praised over substance in the majority of book reviews out there in this day and age. Okay, maybe you’re better off reading the Sparknotes version. Or Borges. Or Jack London’s letters. Or Charlotte’s Web.
I hope you enjoyed my reviews. I’d love to hear if you have read any of the books on my list, and what you thought of them if you did.