Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Delaying gratification (Books - A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle & Old School by Tobias Woolf)

There is nothing like an enticing first paragraph.
Robert Frost made his visit in November of 1960, just a week after the general election. It tells you something about our school that the prospect of his arrival cooked up more interest than the contest between Nixon and Kennedy, which for most of us was no contest at all. Nixon was a straight arrow and a scold. If he'd been one of us we would have glued his shoes to the floor. Kennedy, thought - here was a warrior, an ironist, terse and unhysterical. He had his clothes under control. His wife was a fox. And he read and wrote books, one of which, Why England Slept, was required reading in my honors history seminar. We recognized Kennedy; we could still see in him the boy who would have been a favorite here, roguish and literate, with that almost formal insouciance that both enacted and discounted the fact of his class.

If I didn't know the setting of Tobias Wolff's Old School was a boarding school, I would still have pegged the narrator for an adolescent male and I still would have been hot to read it for its diction, and a tone that seems elegiac for a time gone by. So, why then am I reading A Ring of Light one of Madeleine L'Engle's Austin Family Chronicles series? Especially with all of her religiosity hanging out all over the place? Well, I swore I would read another of L'Engle's books since Sheila (who has a great post on Diner today, one of my favorite movies) enjoys her so much. She is very imaginative. It moves very quickly. I read twenty-five pages last night in under fifteen minutes. And the introduction, written by L'Engle's granddaughters has this to say:
All of Madeliein's writing, fiction and nonfiction, was an example of how all narrative is fiction, and all fiction can be true. She wrote and lectured extensively on the difference between truth and fact, arguing that it is through story that we human beings approach the truth, not through facts; which can only get us so far. As her granddaughters, this was both liberating and confusing...
I am crazy about narrative and its function and so was taken with the introduction. I almost even agree with it, except to say that I think that we human beings approach not truth itself, but rather the feeling of truth, and that that is an important distinction. But as I weighed these two books in my hands last night, reading a page here and a page there, there is nothing particularly impressive about her writerly skills displayed in the early pages of this book, but her writing has a warmth and she renders the messiness of being in a family with verissimilitude. I also had a feeling that I would really like Old School, so I delayed reading it so that I can look forward to it. Is that daft or do you know what I mean?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm putting off several books at the moment because I'm terrified of what it will feel like when I'm finished - so daft, yes, but understandably so.
I am impressed with your willingness to try to see beyond L'Engle's religious overcoat...I struggle with that aspect of her work tremendously.