Sunday, February 22, 2009

Then & Now

Probably one of my all time favorite literary characters is Scarlett O'Hara from Margaret Mitchell's book, Gone with the Wind.

The character of Scarlett has become a bit of a caricature in modern culture thanks to the movie version of the book, but the essential elements that made Scarlett a formidable woman in spite of overwhelming circumstances where real. There really was a Civil War- or rather the War of Northern Aggression, depending on your viewpoint. And following the War, there was complete economic chaos in the South. People at that time had to dig deep within themselves to find the will to survive- just as they had during the War.

Margaret Mitchell set Scarlett's home Tara on the south side of Atlanta, even though stories such as Scarlett's were being enacted all over the state of Georgia- in fact, it was a common tale in most any area affected by the War. That a reader could be taken to Tara, both the pre-War and post-War versions is a testament to Mitchell. Through her words we can see the grandeur and contrast it with the poverty. We can taste the joys and despair of the people during this time. We can smell the fields in bloom and the acrid smoke when Atlanta burned.

But overall, what makes Scarlett such a remarkable literary character is that she was born from the life of a real woman, Rebecca Felton. Margaret Mitchell and Rebecca Felton had a writing relationship and it was from the real life tales of Mrs. Felton's portrayal of life following the War that Mitchell based Scarlett on.

The spirit of survival, patriotism, and being a uniquely Southern female comes alive in Scarlett, and can be paralleled to the hardships and uncertainties we are facing now with our current economic instability- we don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I know that I can look to Scarlett as an example to draw strength that tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Memories of Reading

I don't recall a time that I have not loved to read.

I even remember the first book I "read" by myself when I was about 4 years old. It was the story of a mouse- one of the Little Golden Book books that were popular way back when. I know it wasn't so much me actually reading the words independently, it was really that I had memorized them from hearing the book so many times. And yes, I know that saying I learned to read via memorization goes against the grain of conventional thinking nowadays- we live in a time when phonics are touted to be the only "real" way to learn to read (of course, if you don't read or learn phonetically, you are more or less on your own- but that's a discussion for another day).

I couldn't really say what my favorite reading memory is, there are too many to choose from. I am the person who reads everything, just for the sake of having something to read. I normally read multiple books at a time- all for pleasure. Different subjects- and type- of books serve different purposes.

I recall the first time I read Eugenia Price's Savannah, I was 13 years old and it was Thanksgiving holidays. I remember reading Woodward & Berstein's All the President's Men in 7th grade for a book report project mainly because I wanted to know more about Watergate. I remember a friend turning me on to Victoria Holt's gothic romance novels- yes, everyone goes through a spell.

I know there are books I simply do not like, no matter how many accolades they receive. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, pfftttt... completely overdone. Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, I wish I could get those moments of my life back spent reading it. All of which feeds my personal credo- "Life is too short to read things which are personally unappealing."

Overall, I would have to say that some of best memories of reading stem from my years working as a Children's specialist with a public library. I shared so many wonderful- and mediocre- books with so many children and teens. I think that being able to share a book with someone and watching them get caught up in the story is one of the best ways of sharing a love of books.

If you ever want a challenge, figure out a way to read and act out Shakespeare in such a way that 4 year olds stay still and 8 year olds are intrigued! Yes, I promise it can be done- but it is definitely not a task for the faint of heart!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Literature from Media

There can be no doubt that both television shows and movies revolve around the printed word, even though the words are transmitted visually in the finished product.

The concept of media- mainly television and movies- being a form of literature to me seems a bit complex. In the case of movies a large number of them are based on books or stories from print. Now admittedly there is often a large amount of creative license between what was in the original book, and what is in the final product that makes it to the screen.

Movies, and in a smaller way television shows, bring the words to life and cause us to visually become a part of the story being told. Through the use of the basic literary elements, the script writers set up the storyline parallel to writers of print materials. There are settings, perspectives, and while the audio/ visual elements rely on actual sights and sounds, they still evoke the feelings which are being conveyed in the piece. The main difference is that television and movies bring all of the viewers senses into play, not just relying upon mental stimulation to conjure up the images.

Based upon these similarities, I would have to concur with those who argue that movies and television shows would fall under the realm of literature. Just as with traditional print materials, the worth of the piece relies on those who choose to indulge- which goes to personal tastes in either venue, print or media.

Understanding Literary Elements

Whenever we read, we impose our own perspective onto what the writer has written.

As a result of this it becomes even more necessary to apply the elements of the story- as it is written- so that the true tale is not lost.

If we are aware of the importance of the setting to the story, it helps to keep the context as intended. By knowing and understanding what elements are incorporated into a story- the literary elements- it helps us to feel the story and be aware of the subtle nuances which add to the atmosphere.

Sometimes it is easy to overlook elements such as sound and sight, while at other times the imagery comes through so vividly from the author's choice of words. Everyone can call to mind a particular phrase that evokes an image, something that speaks to you individually and lingers long after the rest of the story fades away.

Also, recognizing the perspective of the narrator is key to understanding the work as a whole. Should the author choose a perspective which does not necessarily make the reader feel that there is a cohesiveness, it is good to be able to recognize the shift in perspectives.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Touch of the Impossible

It would seem that in today's world, cynics that we are, there would be little room for fairy tales. To me though, I think that the opposite is true.

The fairy tales that have been passed down through the centuries still serve their purpose as cautionary tales, even when dosed with modern ideals or political correctness.

If fairy tales were not still relevant- or able to be applied to modern life- they would have long since been cast aside and replaced with tales that fit the palate of people living and interacting in the 21st century. That these tales can be adapted and still retain their basic story is in itself a testimony to the underlying fact that no matter how much we learn or invent, there are still some aspects of life that are just human nature and that the best way to "explain" them is through the use of fairy tales.

This is possibly one reason that many cultures share common themes in their fairy- or folk- tales. The Anasi stories of Africa have been retold repeatedly throughout the ages, as have the various Cinderella stories. Each updated to be recognizable- and pertinent- for their modern audiences, but still holding true to their integral storyline.

Fairy tales help us learn to dream and hope- as well as teach us lessons that are sometimes hard to comprehend in the abstract without the use of fairy tales.

Modern society is lucky to have fairy tales, because not only do they enable us to understand life's many lessons, they also entertain us and provide a continuity between the eras of history.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Experiences vs. Perspective

The question has been posed that asks if being a modern student affects what I read, or my level of enjoyment of books selected to be read.

For me personally, I believe that being a modern student is simply one more layer that in a way enhances certain materials but does not necessarily alter overall my overall perspective in terms of what I am asked to read.

Part of this is most likely due to the fact that I do not fit the traditional student mold. I am 20 years past my high school graduation, I am a mother, I have been a wife, I have been- and am currently- active in my community, and I am much more secure in myself and my faith than I have been at other past points of my life.

Based on these things, I simply relegate the role of student to it's appropriate place on the list of what makes me who I am- and leave it there. It is not the sum of all of my parts, it is just another part.

Now, to the other part of the question, I do believe that it is our perspective- based on past experiences, tastes in reading and personal values- which help to determine whether or not a work is enjoyable. Do I feel the need to dissect each individual work into what the author means, or if there is a hidden meaning in each word, most definitely not. Of course my perspective, and in turn experiences, are what will determine if the work has any meaning for me personally, but being a student is a fractional consideration.

I read for information and enjoyment. Of course, being a student means that I am often required to read materials that do not appeal to me in the least. At these times, I simply choose to read the material, gather what I need and move on. In my experience, if a book, poem, etc., does not make a connection with me, I do not retain it.

Of course there is the philosophy that one should never waste their time in reading things that which do not appeal to them- and I admit, I subscribe to this belief as well. We should never squander our time, since it is an irreplaceable commodity.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
~ Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and snowy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

When reading this poem, one is taken to the snowy woods near the village. You can hear the wind in the trees and feel the coldness radiating from the snow. You can also feel the peace that the rider finds there amongst the trees- the welcome respite from his day to day life that calls to him to stop there in the woods and take a moment just for himself.

The images of the woods, the horse and the snow combine to bring a type of peace that the traveler is not aware that he needs, though from the choice of words Frost appears to invoke upon the reader. That the stillness calls to the traveler despite that he knows there are many more things to be done or tasks to be completed on this long, cold night before he can truly stop for the day.

For me the feelings that are stirred are those that this is a gentle reminder that no matter how chaotic day to day life itself can be, we must each take time for ourselves so that we may both complete our daily duties as well as take care of one's self.

Without the audience, is there writing?

When reading a literary work, it is important to note how the Speaker, the Setting, Sound and Visual Imagery, and the Audience are each interconnected to give substance and structure to the piece.

Of each of these, the most important could be said to be the Audience for which it was written for. If the Audience will not be able to see the Speaker, Setting and Sound & Visual imagery in the way in which the author intends, the meaning and even the very spirit of the work will be lost.

For this reason, when a writer is developing the concept which will be the foundation of what they are writing, it is primary that the Audience play a key factor in the choices made.