Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reading Nostalgia: Marguerite de Angeli's "The Door in the Wall"

I remembered nothing about The Door in the Wall except it was set in the Middle Ages and its protagonist was a boy who lost the use of his legs—both things which can be determined by the front illustrations or the back cover.

Ten-year-old Robin is the son of a knight and a lady-in-waiting. When his father goes to war and his mother is called to serve the Queen, it’s arranged for Robin to become a page to Sir Robert de Lindsay. Unfortunately before a messenger can come to fetch Robin to begin his new life, Robin falls ill with a vague fever that claims the use of his legs. As if that weren’t bad enough, his home town is stricken with the plague, and Robin finds himself alone and helpless in his own home.

Robin’s fortune changes when a monk named Brother Luke hears about him and goes to his rescue. Because Robin doesn’t have the plague he’s able to be moved out of the town and taken to the abbey. Though he is nursed back to health, Robin’s legs remain crippled, and he’s faced with an uncertain future as he tries to figure out how he’ll follow in his father’s knightly footsteps if he can’t even perform the simple duties of a mere page.

This is where the figurative “Door in the Wall” emerges. As it’s uncertain whether Robin will ever regain the use of his legs, Brother Luke and the other monks teach him that despite the walls (obstacles) in his life, he can always find doors (opportunities) to get through them.

Eventually Robin does take his place at Sir Robert de Lindsay’s castle, and shows there are other ways he can contribute than learning to be a knight. Although this book is short, the pace is leisurely, and the plot is rather low-key, with even the ending feeling a bit anticlimactic. Yet while I was underwhelmed by parts of the plot, the strengths of this book make up for its weaknesses. The style of de Angeli’s prose is not only complex and thoughtful, it also takes such a tone as to make the reader feel like they are immersing themselves in Medieval England. I imagine a child would definitely enjoy reading this book if only for it’s “time travelling” quality that transports the reader into history.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Year's Reading Resolutions for 2018

Looking back upon my year of reading in 2017, I can’t help but feel as if I could have done better. Granted, there’s a point where reading A LOT can take over one’s motivations and it suddenly all becomes about page numbers and book totals and whether a novella is more of a short story (and therefore doesn’t count) or a true novel (which would totally count!). It’s not right to make reading all about the numbers. That would make reading more like math, and we certainly can’t have that.

Yet sometimes goals are good, because they force us to push our limits, shake us out of apathy, plunge us into deeper subjects than we’re used to swimming in, and generally make us leave our comfort zone. This is especially true in today’s society where reading is secondary to other forms of entertainment. In fact, that’s why I feel I could have done better; I feel my reliance on other media (TV, mostly) caused me to waste valuable free time that would have been more profitably spent reading.

I refuse to feel despondent about my self-supposed failure, though. Instead I choose to look toward 2018 with new resolve. Setting lofty goals may be setting myself up for failure…but what if I reached those goals? Often it’s more about proving yourself to yourself than to others.

As usual, my baseline goal next year was to read 100 books. Then I thought, “Why stop there? Why not up it to 125? To 150?”

Monday, December 18, 2017

Thoughts on Aristotle's "Poetics"

The way words can conjure a world and convey thoughts from one brain to another’s seems like true magic, yet a magic that has a science behind it nonetheless.

“Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and thought imitation learns his earliest lessons…. Next, there is the instinct for ‘harmony’ and rhythm, metres being manifestly sections of rhythm. Persons, therefore, starting with this natural gift developed by degrees their special aptitudes, till their rude improvisations gave birth to Poetry.”

One of the earliest books about the science of writing happens to be one of the best I’ve read thus far. Aristotle’s Poetics is not simply about poetry—genres of Ancient Greece were not divided in the same ways as they are in modern times—but also talks about storytelling, comedy, plot structure, character development, diction and word choice, evoking emotion in the reader, Style, logic, and verisimilitude. (Verisimilitude is one of my favorite words learned in college lit classes, referring to a story being “true to life” or realistic.)