Archive for April 6th, 2006

Fortified Wine

So the British and Irish governments chose Navan Fort as the site for launching their proposals on the future of Northern Ireland. As the BBC’s correspondent notes, the site is rich in historic symbolism. Omitted from any report I can see so far is that the reason all you have is a big green mound is because the original structure was deliberately burnt to the ground. And a few hundred yards away, you have the inocuously titled ‘King’s Stables’, with neither a king nor a stable in sight, but a rather gentle swamp-cum-pool. At the bottom of the pool lie the decomposed corpses of victims of ritual sacrifices. And quite a few Buckfast bottles, I can tell you.

A Milestone In Reading

A study reported in the Guardian today highlights a sharp difference between the literary preferences of men and women. Apparently men expressed preferences for books they felt marked a certain milestone in their lives, whereas women tended to think of books more as providing support and guidance at difficult times.

Camus’s The Outsider was the top book on the list. Funny enough, it was one of the seven books I mentioned here. But I don’t really think of books in terms of whether or not the scales really fell from my eyes when I read it, or if it marked a milestone in my personal or intellectual development.

This wasn’t always the case. I remember buying, as a spotty teen some 12 years ago in Dublin Airport, To Kill A Mockingbird (another book on the list) convinced that this was A Very Important Read Indeed. This attitude changed in the years that followed, as I spent most of my time reading books which, perhaps tragically, turned out to be of no material importance whatsoever.
Novels are art. Just as you wouldn’t consider a painting in terms of the effect it had on you the first time you saw it (if I did, I would have a rather low opinion of, say, the Weeping Woman), to say something like ‘1984 changed the way I see the world’ probably indicates that it didn’t change the way you see the world very much at all.

This is not to denigrate the genuine affection in which many men might hold a book such as Catcher in the Rye. But to think of this book mainly in terms of how its rite-of-passage theme closely mirrored your own rite-of-passage, or how it captures the way you see the world (a la Mark Chapman), is to close off the possibility for deeper and more valuable interpretations, which may only come about after reading other books, and re-reading and comparing.

In the ‘photography manual’ approach to literature as described by Lisa Jardine, there is a sort of literary fundamentalism at play. To think that a text can constructively alter your life, or improve you as a person, or that its importance is the role it plays in the story of your life, is not that much different to what the guy with a loudspeaker in Cornmarket in Belfast on a Saturday morning thinks.

The main difference might be that the literary creation that inspires the street preacher is called ‘God’, whereas the literary creation that inspires you is called ‘I’. But at one level, God and I are one and the same.

In a way, thinking of one’s life in terms of personal milestones is like writing the first draft of your own obituary. So perhaps I shouldn’t make too big a deal of the fact that this blog is one year old today.

But I ought to say thanks to all those who read the site and leave comments on occasion.
I’m very pleased that I’ve had the willpower to maintain this blog for a year now, and while I certainly don’t have a huge readership (nor do I feel a need to have one), I wouldn’t have continued with it so long if there weren’t people out there reading it. Sometimes I am puzzled as to why people actually read it, but that doesn’t make the experience of writing things and having people read it any less of a pleasure. Thanks again.

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April 2006