Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book reviews

And who among you is surprised?

While on vacation, I finished two: Jomier's The Bible and the Qur'an and another I picked up at the used book store in Vacationtown our second day there. Here are my thoughts.

Jomier's Bible and Qur'an: Not really an introduction as he presumes a certain amount of background knowledge, like what "jinns" are (that's genies to you and me--the wish-granting spirits from Arabian Nights. You know, Robin Williams' blue guy from Aladdin). That might be in a footnote in the original French, but it's not there in the English. He also presumes a Catholic, or at least Christian, background. Some of the references he makes, like (I'm paraphrasing) "We have God the Father, they have Allah the slavemaster" tip his hand as to his background. Another sign of his assumption on the part of his readership is the way he cites. If he refers to a particular passage in the Qur'an, he provides it. If he refers to something from the Bible, he doesn't. He just seems to presume that you would have a Bible nearby to look up the particular quote he's referring to.
He compares the notion that both the Bible and Qur'an are looked upon as the Word of God by their respective adherents, but adds that Christians have that tricky little bit at the beginning of John's Gospel to throw a spanner in the works.
Not a bad pick-up if you're into that sort of thing.

The other one I finished (and started) on vacation was the fourth edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook. I liked most of it because it was a big pat on the back to us, who have been reading to our kids since their ears developed in utero (seriously--he read The Hobbit to my expanding belly the first time around and we've never quit). Some of it seems like preaching to the choir, though; how many non-readers are going to pick up a book with that title?
The advice goes like this:
1. Read to your child.
2. Read to your child some more.
3. If you're going blind, learn Braille and read to your child. Or get books on tape.
4. Read age-appropriate books to your child.
5. Oprah can't be completely evil as she has gotten adults reading and buying usually more than one book at a time.
6. Harry Potter can't be completely evil either as he has gotten children reading more, longer, and more challenging books than they were reading before J. K. Rowling came along.
7. Television and computers are NOT the same as dead-tree. Turn off the electronics and sit down with some paper. And your child.
8. A good library, be it home, school or public, is vital to provide opportunities for kids to read.
9. Don't bother with the "classics," because even adults don't bother reading them.
10. Read to your child.

Now, I agree with just about all of that except #9. I've read a few of Oprah's selections and yes, I know she's chosen Anna Karenina among other classics. Her choices are better than so much of the drivel put out today, as well. But the classics--Huckleberry Finn, 1984, Tale of Two Cities, Red Badge of Courage, Shakespeare's stuff, et cetera--are still around for a reason. Why should they be read? By anyone?
Because they speak to the human condition, the universal human experience. Growing up, right and wrong, sins committed in the name of "love," abuse of power, surviving the death of loved ones.
Anyway, I could go on for a whole other post on defending the classics. I'll just say the book is worthwhile if only from the library because it includes a whole list of good read-aloud books for all ages.

There. Now I can go back to reading.



At 5:32 AM, Blogger Matthew Siekierski said...

Another thing about classics is that there are a lot of metaphors and analogies that we use today that come from classics, and without knowing the context the meaning is lost. I mean, what would "Big Brother" mean without the setting of 1984?

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Thank you, Matt! I was thinking of that, but since I couldn't bring to mind a concrete, current example I didn't mention it.

I get the reference in the VISA commercial to The Frog Prince, or "going down the rabbit hole," among others. But how many others do?

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Maureen said...

I think "read the age-appropriate, temperament-appropriate classics" is the critical bit. There are always some books that one just isn't ready to enjoy yet. It took me a long time to understand why people said Pride and Prejudice was funny.

Of course, there are plenty of classics that never are too old or young for you. I read and enjoyed The Tempest, unabridged, in 2nd grade. (After The Hobbit, but before I could get past the first Riders in LOTR, as they were way too scary.) Now, I'm not claiming that I got every subtlety or joke of Shakespeare, but I certainly understood what was going on and loved the beauty of the language. (Also, there were footnotes defining most of the words I didn't know.)

It was my dad's college copy of _just_ The Tempest -- just the size for my hands -- and I'd already read a book for kids retelling many Shakespeare plots. The disadvantage, I suppose, is that I vaguely thought of Shakespeare as something ordinary mortals read, and only actors and children in books were allowed to act formally. (All English kids in books are always acting out plays and puppet plays, and it always sounded pretty cool. But then, they were also allowed to play outside all day, miles away from the house. English schoolkids, like superheroes, had powers not permitted to ordinary mortal kids.)


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