Friday, June 26, 2009

Between the Covers

Don't call me unsophisticated or naive.
I've spent plenty of time between the covers!

I mean books, of course. "What we become depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books," said Thomas Carlyle.

Over the past couple of weeks, three books have reached into my heart and grabbed it, filling it with empathy, respect and charity. They have wrenched my mind and given it much to wrestle with, anguish over, and ultimately understand better. They are very different but all three deal with the treatment of the Jews during World War II, and how people dealt with the collective and personal guilt of what happened. The stories are all so personal and some of the characters became heroes to me.

  1. The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink
  2. Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec
  3. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosenay

The situations in each book are true, but Defiance is true to the last detail, with descendants who talk about it. That movie is fascinating, but violent with war scenes.

The Reader is provocative. It has several descriptive, but tender, love scenes at the first of the book. You don't have to read every word to get the important story line. Two thirds of the book takes place after the love affair is over. (The movie follows the book almost word for word, but the loves scenes are pretty vivid during the first half hour. If that is not your cup of cocoa, you might enjoy the book more, or use your ff remote button.)

Sarah's Key would be a great book-club selection, and even has discussion questions at the end. It's about 4,000 Jewish children who were rounded up in Paris by French police, and separated from their parents in 1942. I was unfamiliar with this story from history, and it's poignant, heart-breaking and sweet. I love the way it was written—back and forth between two characters in 1942 and 2002.

I can't stop thinking about any of these books. They have touched me profoundly.

Reading has shown me how much more there is to learn; books have opened a floodgate of curiosity. I have a Hero with Asperger syndrome so I've read lots of books on that subject. Family members have experienced infertility and in-vitro conceptions, so I read more books.

A son and his wife are re-using, pre-cycling, re-cycling, so I'm reading about saving the earth, going green. I want to understand loved ones who deal with bi-polar conditions, addictions, loss of faith, grief, gout, cesarean sections and hypno-birth, twins, gifted kids . . . so I read. I want to be familiar with my kid's hobbies and careers, so I check out books on biking, hiking, camping, dutch ovens, soccer, home school; over the years I've read The Mikado, Gymnastic Giants, Mormon Nannies in the Big Apple, law schools across the country, about health care, sprinkling systems and boating, all to keep up with Heroic interests. I want to be interested and interesting.

As I drag myself out of a bookstore my thought is always, "So much to learn, so little time." I am exhilarated by all there is to learn, about so many subjects. One interest leads to another, and so it goes, until I'm off becoming an expert on some tangent that's entertaining and new.

Like the pregnant young woman of pioneer vintage we're studying right now. When her husband left to settle some land 250 miles away in a wilderness in Nevada, she stayed in St. George, UT until she had her baby. She then traveled in a wagon train with a two-year-old and a week-old baby for two weeks until she arrived at her newly constructed dug-out/tent mansion and started to build a life from scratch. I'm already searching for diaries and journals describing this kind of life. I remember The Giant Joshua and These is my Words. Any other suggestions?

My heart and mind are expanded and I become more than I was when I didn't understand these subjects. And they could be any subjects.

Dallin Oaks said,
"There are few things more fulfilling and fun than learning something new. Great happiness and satisfaction come from this. An education is not limited to formal study. Lifelong learning can increase our ability to appreciate and relish the workings and beauty of the world around us. This kind of learning goes well beyond books and a selective use of new technology. It includes artistic endeavors, experiences with people and places. We should expand ourselves and enjoy the journey. The ultimate goal of an education is to make us better people, better spouses, better parents."

Make a random list of subjects you'd like to know more about and put it on your bulletin board. Choose a few for your individual curriculum and go get a couple of books. Or use Google or Wikipedia. Study it for as long as you want—make it your major, your minor or a requirement. And you can change your major regularly.

I design courses for myself all the time. In fact, I took one while staying at Gabi's one week. After hours, in the guest-room, I spent every night reading my new camera's instruction book cover-to-cover, (Kinko's copied it in a bigger print and spiral bound it so I could actually see the words.) I tried out all the various settings and modes, taking pictures of my feet (hey, they were handy) and the squares on my quilt. And I learned to use my camera frontwards and backwards! It was as good as taking a class right in my own bed.

Have you started a personal
Home School, Summer School, or Life-Long Learning Class?
What are you studying between the covers?


Sheri said...

I saw Desperation and The Reader. Didn't really care for either, even though I usually love movies and books about the Hollocast. I'll try the last one, Sarah's Keys. Sounds like my kind of read. By the way, I loved Bird by Bird.

Did you find your ghosts in Nevada?

Sheri said...

I meant Defiance, not Desperation! Duh. Maybe I'm thinking desperation because that's the state I'm in right now!

Christine L. said...

I'm a lurker, but this post has drawn me into the conversation.

If you see the movie Defiance make sure you watch the special features, and interviews with his kids. It's amazing how many Jews are alive because of this hideaway in the forest. I thought this movie was like Schindler's List, but not as hard to watch. I think it's an unbelievable story.


kenju said...

I'm just reading fiction now, not studying anything in particular. I have 3 shelves of un-read books, and now you make me put three more on my list! Shame on you!

Tiffany said...

I love the idea of reading books on a subject. I have a new goal!

diane said...

My sister just gave me Sarah's Key. It is next on my list.

I'm studying Revelations this summer. Not exactly a light summer read. I found a bunch of books and articles to help me decode.

I need a crash course on being a grandma. I just got the news! I will continue to read your blog for excellent ideas.

Jenibelle said...

Being part Jewish (1/4) I have always had a fascination with "my people" and their history and traditions through the ages. Teaching the Old Testament is a joy for me and I learn and appreciate it more each time the rotation comes around in Seminary. While back east we went to the Holocaust Museum in DC and spent almost five hours there, I could have spent five more. It was sobering, humbling and heartbreaking. This summer I am reading books on WWII and the Jews in particular. I read the "Reader" in the spring and just bought Sarah's Key. Now, after your endorsement I am even more anxious!

PS. What a lovely, lovely daughter you raised, she's a gem.