Bookishness

The Giver: an unexpected experience with a Newbery Medal winner.

apple the giver
The image is from here. The apple marks the beginning of Jonas’ ability to ‘see beyond’ — colour.

About a week ago I finished reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. It left me feeling the way books of this kind generally do — empty, listless yet restless at the same time. I am grateful I went through that only for a few hours. I have had it happen to me for days. Dystopian stories have always been the kind I try to avoid as much as I can, but once in a while I pick one up unsuspecting of what it is about, and then once I’m into it, there is just no putting it down and leaving it aside until I am finished with it.

The Giver came into my radar only because I found thirteen copies of it lying in our school stock room, a neat little perch for a very kingly looking frog that sat upon this pile of books and stared at me malevolently. I got one of the helpers to clear him and get the books down before I rushed them to the library to have them catalogued.

This is where you don’t ask me how that could ever have happened in the first place! And I won’t tell you.

But, to get back to the point, there was our library with thirteen copies of a book on the one hand, and an idea that struck while taking one-on-one English classes with a colleague on the other hand that merged together into a Staff Book Club idea. Many teachers got on board, and we decided to make The Giver our first read for the club — easily accessible to even the most skeptical of the lot of us.

I am grateful, now, for having read this. Much as I dislike that apathetic feeling at the end of a dystopian novel, I am looking forward to the discussion we are to have for the scope and the reach of this novel is vast.

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We find ourselves in a community that has no name. It is a community that is made up of perfect little family units — a father, mother, son and daughter — and everything is so sterile and serene. Jonas is an Eleven on the brink of becoming a Twelve, and this is a turning point for him and others his age. This mean they are becoming adults with new roles and responsibilities. We are slowly but inexplicably drawn into this world that reveals its layers bit by bit, secretly, as though afraid that if it dumps all its aspects upon you in one go, you will refuse to step into it. And so it lures you in with curiosity and perhaps puzzlement. But once you are in, the Sameness of it all settles uncomfortably upon you, clawing at you deep inside as it begins to suffocate you, and you sense that bit of hope as Jonas is given a role so rare — that of Receiver. You begin to understand that the role is something you are familiar with, and you watch as Jonas begins to discover what to you is so ordinary and is taken a great deal for granted.

It is a very deep book, with so much to ponder over. Let me, at this point, allow my reader to know that I am moving into spoiler territory. For me, this post is not a review; it is more a process of getting the thoughts and ideas that held me during this reading out into the open. A catharsis, if you will. So, unless you have read this book before or are not the kind who is bothered by spoilers, please do not read any further.

Now, if you will note, I mentioned that Jonas is to be the Receiver. And if there is a receiver then surely there is a giver. The Receiver is the holder of all the memories, from generation to generation, in the community. The previous Receiver of the memories becomes The Giver when handing over those memories to Jonas. While reading this story, I got the sense that the Giver is a God-like character. I doubt if Lowry intended for this book to be some sort of allegory or even one with a religious tone, so please understand that my reading of this book is coloured strongly by my faith and beliefs, and not by anything the writer might have intended or unintended.

As I was saying, The Giver, and the Receiver for that matter, appear to be god-like characters. Their role is one of wisdom acquired from the memories they posses. They are called upon by the Elders of the community to help with decision-making on very rare occasions when the latter are unable to understand something. Otherwise, they leave the Receiver out of most things. The Giver expresses his desire that they sought him out more, for there is so much he could show them and tell them, so much wisdom he has to share that would bring about good changes.

“Do you advise them often?”
[…] “Rarely. Only when they are faced with something that they have not experienced before. Then they call upon me to use the memories and advise them. But it very seldom happens. Sometimes I wish they’d ask for my wisdom more often — there are so many things I could tell them; things I wish they would change. But they don’t want change. Life here is so orderly, so predictable — so painless. It’s what they’ve chosen.” (pg. 134)

This brings to mind, as a Christian, the times so many of us often turn to God only when we need something. At other times we are content to relegate Him to the background and do as we please for we are too afraid of the change that having Him constantly steering our lives could bring about. It’s what they’ve chosen. And this brings up the whole matter of choice in this book.

While The Giver and The Receiver might appear god-like, the Elders of the Community are the ones who play ‘God’. The Community has chosen the Sameness of their existence and ruled out choice completely from the lives of its citizens. We get a glimpse of what life would be like without free will, without the ability to choose. And we could better appreciate a God who allows those He loves to make their own choices, no matter how much He could wish they would choose otherwise.

“… We don’t dare to let people make choices of their own.”
“Not safe?” The Giver suggested.
“Definitely not safe,” Jonas said with 
certainty. “What if they were allowed to choose their own mate? And chose wrong?
“Or what if,” he went on, almost laughing at the absurdity, “they chose their own jobs?”
“Frightening, isn’t it?” The Giver said.
Jonas chuckled. “Very frightening. I can’t even imagine it. We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”
“It’s safer.”
“Yes,” Jonas agreed. “Much safer.” (pg. 128)

But, Jonas does not really agree. We watch and see as memories flood him, how he grows restless, impatient and quite upset that he cannot share his new found knowledge and wisdom with his friends and family. He also learns that, while others making choices for you might be safer, it sucks the life out of living.

After a life of Sameness and predictability, he was awed by the surprises that lay beyond each curve of the road. He slowed the bike again and again to look with wonder at wild flowers, to enjoy the throaty warble of a new bird nearby, or merely to watch the way wind shifted the leaves in the trees. During his twelve years in the community, he had never felt such simple moments of exquisite happiness. (pg. 215)

It is sad that the community requires the Receiver to keep their memories for them while they go through a life of grey that leaves them ignorant of pain on the one hand and love on the other.

“Do you love me?”
There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then Father gave a little chuckle. “Jonas. You, of all people. Precision of language, please!”
“What do you mean?” Jonas asked. Amusement was not at all what he had anticipated.
“Your father means that you used a very generalised word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete,” his mother explained carefully.
Jonas stared at them. Meaningless? He had never before felt anything as 
meaningful as the memory. (pg. 162)

Such a cold, cold world. Uniformed and grey — literally. There is no colour in this world. Only the reigning Receiver can see colour. Birthmothers are considered expendable. They have the babies that they never see and are then thrown into labour without family units of their own. Adults take pills when they begin to have the Stirrings. A pill everyday that keeps them from feeling. There are no books, save for rule books, no art and no music. And we re-explore our world of feelings and free will while Jonas steps into it. He experiences the horrors of his world from the knowledge he gains, and we root for him in breathless anticipation as he makes his escape into Elsewhere.

There is so much in this book to think and talk about. I have barely scratched the surface with this post. But I hope to be diving into a deeper discussion with my colleagues next month. I know, this has become a book I would dearly love to read in class with our children as we discuss the themes of the story. I am seriously looking at suggesting this for next year. I am on the look out for more!

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Essays, Snippets

My Response to Hazlitt’s ‘On Going a Journey’

asphalt autumn beauty colorful
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A Book of English Essays has been sitting on my shelf for nearly two years now, crying out to be read. I bought it because it has all the pleasant English essayists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and I was in the mood for a ‘conversation’ with them. However, I have only just finished reading my first essay from this collection — ‘On Going a Journey’ by William Hazlitt.

One of the pleasantest things in the world is going a journey; but I like to go by myself. That is how his essay begins and I found myself sitting up with an ah-ha! I do not know if I would like to go on a journey by myself. No, in fact, I am quite positive I would not want to go on a journey by myself. I am a creature who finds security in the presence of another. Not just any other, though; an other who is a kindred spirit.  But, I am greatly in accord with Hazlitt’s sentiments on why he likes to go by himself. To go by oneself allows for the opportunity to experience the country (in Hazlitt’s case) or the sea or hills (in my case) without the intrusion of conversation. Hazlitt puts it this way:

Is not this wild rose sweet without a comment? Does not this daisy leap to my heart set in its coat of emerald? Yet if I were to explain to you the circumstance that has so endeared it to me, you would only smile. Had I not better then keep it to myself and let it serve me to brood over, from here to yonder craggy point, and from thence onward to the far-distant horizon?

To put into words, then, the feeling of otherworldliness that overcomes one when in the awe-inspiring presence of God’s creation has you in its grasp, is to mar the beauty of the experience. Quite often one is at a loss to describe the desire that builds up within oneself. I recall, this time last year, I was driving through the forest area between school and home. We were on the cusp of evening, with rain clouds hanging low. The road stretched ahead before us like a narrow, grey ribbon. And the trees, oh the trees! They were such a delicious green on wet barks. The desire to stop my car and dash out to hug a tree was so overwhelming that I had to force myself to think of my sons in the back seat and understand that it was not a safe idea. But I still think of it, and the feeling still comes upon me when I see that particular shade of green, sometimes dappled with sunlight.

There is another instance more recent. After a long time I succumbed to flying in May of this year. I usually feel nauseous on a flight, but this time my mother made me take a pill. I didn’t feel completely fine, but I had the amazing pleasure of watching a kingdom in the clouds. I wanted so much to have the words to capture what I was seeing. I knew photographs would never work. Cotton just rolling one over the other; mountains. I saw mountains of orange and red misted with pink, rolling into valleys of cotton candy; and I wondered if heaven was like this. I cannot, for the life of me, describe what exactly I saw and experienced through the tiny window of the aeroplane. Who could possibly sympathise unless they saw the same thing, experienced the same thing, thought the same thing? There is then no sympathy, but an uneasy craving after it, and a dissatisfaction which pursues you on your way: says Hazlitt.

I feel C.S. Lewis captures the same feeling and sentiments better in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale and remote) and then … found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it. 

Even to ‘recollect in tranquility’ cannot bring back that same reaction of awe and wonder. But it is a feeling that I do get when sitting in solitude watching the waves beat upon the shore with salt crusting my lips and hair, and the blue-grey ocean spread out in front of me into endlessness.

Yes, I mentioned solitude. I do like a few hours to myself when I may just think and feel. Hazlitt believes so too. For him, a solitary journey is liberty ‘to think, feel’ and ‘do just as one pleases.’

Hazlitt, after dwelling much on the solitude of going on a journey, then turns to the anticipation of dinner. A journey full of thought and feeling must end with a delicious dinner, and while I cannot really sympathise with the entire sentiment, I do appreciate his appreciation of good food after a long day. It is after all what we all look forward to everyday after a long day at work. However, I do not care to dwell much on this part of his essay, as well as his exposition on talking to strangers. I do not fall into conversation with strangers easily, especially if I am on a journey! And if I do, by some strange chance, I am very polite and try to extricate myself as quickly as possible from any further conversation. For this, though, I think I might have to blame our times. Perhaps, had I lived even, say, fifty years ago, I might have not been on my guard with a stranger. But desperate times call for desperate measures, even if it means cutting short or altogether avoiding any interaction with a stranger.

Hazlitt ends his essay with the idea of foreign travel. While I have not done much travelling personally, I find I agree with him when he says:

There is undoubtedly a sensation in travelling into foreign parts that is to be had nowhere else; but it is more pleasing at the time than lasting. It is too remote from our habitual associations to be a common topic of discourse or reference, and, like a dream or other state of existence, does not piece into our daily modes of life. It is an animated but a momentary hallucination.

He ends with saying that had he another life, he would consider foreign travel a must. But he believes: we can be said only to fulfil our destiny in the place that gave us birth. I am not sure that many would agree with this idea. Personally, I would like to read that last phrase as ‘the place that gives birth to our personality and our being’.

On the whole, I enjoyed this essay. I admit to reading it twice in a row. I found myself having a ‘conversation of ideas’ with Hazlitt, and loved that I could do so. ‘On Going a Journey’ reminded me of why I chose to start reading essays and non-fiction, and why I ought to get to the entire collection quickly.

Snippets

The ABC Tag: Facts About Me!

Hi Teddy!
Teddies are the cutest soft toys! This sweet photo is from here.

I came across this interesting tag on Flowers in the Brain, and thought it a fun one to work out for my blog. It is just a little something about me. I’ve chosen to make my answers current because it makes things more interesting for me, and my readers…I hope!

  • Age: 35
  • Books: Just added The Invention of Nature, Born a Crime and The Poppy War to my TBR list having been unduly tempted to do so; picked up an online copy yesterday of The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus after reading this post.
  • Colours: deeper shades of blue, medium shades of green, and shades of violet
  • Dream: to make beautiful water colour paintings (I must mention that I have an artistic turn of mind, but erm…no skill)
  • Everyday start with: quiet time with the Lord — I love this time of my day
  • Flower: right now the bridal shower
  • Goals: to write a biblical musical for my school; to get the school magazine up and running; to work on a study for a teacher Bible fellowship
  • Height: 5ft 4in
  • In love with: wasting my time making up endless lists and plans and doing nothing about them!!
  • Job:  teacher, event planner, culture-setter (if that makes any sense!)
  • Kids: 2 adorable little boys — Pixie and Roo
  • Last thing I ate: sweet mixture
  • Magic power: to reach out to every student in one go; and to correct every mistake in a paper or notebook with one stroke of a red pen (sigh)
  • Number of fears: 
  • Outfit: kaftans at home
  • Passions: I don’t have any passions, just things I like.
  • Quotations: ‘I am never less alone than when alone.’ — On Going a Journey by William Hazlitt (I read this essay only two days ago.)
  • Reasons to smile: my husband, my boys — they make me smile all the time! Chocolate. Books. Free time. Rain. The smell of rain. Fresh and luscious green. Clouds. Butterflies. Many-branched trees.
  • Season: Monsoon, I guess.
  • Travels: China! I’m excited about visiting China next month.
  • Under water animals: pretty tropical fish
  • Vacation: silence
  • Worst habit: procrastinating (for instance, right now, I really should be writing lesson plans and correcting annoying notebooks… :-/ )
  • X men character: Storm
  • Your favourite food: biriyani, if I have to choose one
  • Zodiac sign: Mum calls me the bull in the china shop — I’m May born.

And, that’s some facts about me! If you are tempted to do this one, please do let me know. I would love to know the little things that make up the slices in lives!

Snippets

Remembering Pappa: The Best Dad in the World

September Rolling
A pretty picture from pixabay; this is our weather right now — wet green and beautiful!

Since beginning this blog a little over a month ago, I’ve been having a ‘hobby’ to look forward to after a long and hard day at work. Sometimes, I just need to sit down and not think about the next event in school; the guests I need to host and make comfortable; the children who miss me every time I am called away from class, and the fights they get into because of that; the question papers I need to set; the numerous notebooks and workbooks I need to correct; the information that needs to be passed on to teachers and admin. Yeah. It does get exhausting. Mind you, I do not dislike it. There is so much I learn everyday, and I can feel myself growing and maturing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, intellectually; I find that exciting! But it is also nice to have something that is completely your own, and puts a different kind of pressure on you; allows you to think of other things apart from work. And that is what this blog has been to me for the past month.

My first post on this blog was written five days before my father suddenly passed away. It was a shock, yes. We were expecting my father’s father to go. He was a century old and spent his final week wasting away. But hours after my grandfather died, my mother called to say that my father was rushed to the hospital. She suspected a stroke. But, as my sister and I and our families drove down to reach our parents, we got the news that his aorta had ruptured and he was no more.

I think of him everyday. One of his last pictures graces my phone screen. He looks frail with paper-thin skin. He was only sixty-seven. He had fallen ill a couple of years ago, and the doctors had made the wrong diagnosis. It took him two months to get over what turned out to be something very simple. That ordeal left him weak. Not that he ever let it stop him from his daily two-hour walks, and his evening socialising with friends (who all miss him terribly now.) He took such good care of mamma when she had the cancer, made sure she ate healthy food; he was so careful about her diet, and personally chose meat and vegetables for her.

He was a caring grandfather – Pixie’s reaction when he heard that pappa was gone was so sweet and reminiscing: “Grandpa took such good care of us. He used to take Roo and me for badminton everyday when we stayed with them.” I am glad my sons have that memory with him.

He was a fantastic father – not the kind that I could chatter with about anything and everything, and have a good time with. No. Pappa was always a rather quiet man. He hated anything that even gave a whiff of gossip. He disliked idle chatter. But, he was a kind and caring man. He was the kind of father that worked quietly behind the scenes, showing he cared through his actions — all the time. He never missed a single programme my sister and I were a part of, when he was in town. He took so much pride in our talents, and was our biggest supporter. He was willing to spend time and money if he thought he was helping enhance our talents and gifts.

There is a saying here (I don’t know if it is the same everywhere) – never learn to drive from a father, brother or husband. My father was a very patient man when I was learning to drive. I still recall how he would cling to the end of his seat, but would say in a very calm voice every time I did something crazy, “It’s okay, macklay (‘love’ in our mother-tongue). Try it again.” And simply that reaction, knowing that he was worried, but wanted to encourage me, was always enough for me to be careful and do better the next time. He had so much faith in me.

It was pappa who taught me integrity, fairness, impartiality; who taught me never to judge another person, to think from various perspectives before making a decision; to be courageous in standing up for the truth. He was a living example of all these principles. Pappa always gave us the freedom to be independent, but never let us think we could not come to him when in trouble. I recall, back when I was in university, a few friends had been planning to drive down to a nearby town to spend the night. It was to be a mixed crowd. I was quite excited – since it was to be my first time heading out with friends – and  begged pappa to let me go. He was quiet while I spoke to him, reassuring him that my friends were all right. He sat me down, and said: “I am not really for it. Let me give you the reasons why. But, if after I have told you my reasons, you still want to go, then I will let you. However, please remember, if you feel uncomfortable, like things are off, just call me and I will come at once.” He gave me his reasons. I chose not to go. He was relieved and happy. And I knew even then, I had the best dad in the world.

I miss him. He was a man with a big heart that he bottled up inside most of the time. But over the last two or three years I have had some precious conversations with him about things I have known, but have never heard of from him with his perspective. When he talked, I kept quiet and lapped it all up. I’m so glad I had those hours with him.

He went away in peace. Though outwardly sudden, my father had been ready to go to the Lord. He longed for it, because he knew his duties were done. It was a deep, spiritual longing. His aorta had ruptured at home, but his close friends dragged him off to the hospital – he hadn’t wanted to go. I heard that he walked from the car into the hospital – no one knew at the time that his heart was busted. I thought, when I heard it, that was typically pappa; he wouldn’t have wanted them to worry. He went to the hospital for the sake of his family and friends. He was calm. He was in pain, but he was calm. He held mamma’s hand to comfort her, as they stuck things into him in the ICU. The last people to be with him were the doctors. They reported to mamma that pappa’s last words were: “Let me rest.”

He was a beautiful, good man. He had his faults. But he was a good man. And I miss him.

However, I know that he is with the Lord now. This missing will only be temporary.

……………………..

I began this post to reminisce over my blogging. But, I had wanted to say much about pappa for awhile. I shall take my former attempt with the next post.

Bookishness

3 Bookish Things: A Book Tag

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

I came across this tag at Orange County Readers, and thought it would be fun to do it too.

Three Read-Once-and-Loved Authors

I am not entirely sure what this category requires. I am assuming that it means an author I read for the first time, and after that wanted to lay my hands on more of their works. There are many more than the three I am mentioning below.

  1. Matsuo Basho
  2. Jerome K Jerome
  3. Stephen R Lawhead

Three Titles I have Watched but haven’t Read

  1. The Man in the Iron Mask
  2. Born Free
  3. The Jungle Book

Three Characters I Love (Like)

  1. Elinor Dashwood (from Sense and Sensibility)
  2. Jo March (from Little Women)
  3. Jerusha ‘Judy’ Abbott (from Daddy-Long-Legs)
  4. Bonus: Ferdinand (from Ferdinand the Bull)

Three Series I Binged

My first two are trilogies by the same writer. I haven’t been much of a more-than-three-books-running reader.

  1. The Song of Albion
  2. The Raven King
  3. The Dragonlance (series by the original writers)

Three Unpopular Bookish Opinions

  1. I don’t care much for Elizabeth Bennett — not after my last re-reading of Pride and Prejudice.
  2. I think high fantasy is true fantasy.
  3. This quote is me for the last couple of years:

    But an awakened mind which thirsts after the Saviour, and seeks wisdom by reading and praying over the Scripture, has little occasion for a library of human writings.” – John Newton in his letter Reading the Bible.

Three Current Favourite Book Covers

Three Bookish Goals for the Year

  1. Read
  2. ReAd
  3. READ!

 

Random Fives

Five writers I devoured in school.

This is really for Top Ten Tuesday, but I feel a lot more comfortable dishing up five things on a list at a time. Ten is way too big a number for me! So, apparently this week’s topic is a back-to-school freebie, and I couldn’t help but think of the books I read from our school library back when I was a teen.

At the time I would fixate on a particular writer and read everything the school had by that one writer. I would even be on the lookout for that writer in the bookstores and at friends houses. When we were in the sixth standard (grade) we were allowed to step into the hallowed halls of the school library. I recall that each year from the sixth to the tenth standard I had one writer going for me through the year.

Here they are in the order I read them:

1. The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope:

I think our school library was the only one in the whole of our city with a collection of these books! I’d never heard of them until I espied them in the school shelves; there was a large collection of the series. I have just learnt that Laura Lee Hope is the pseudonym of a syndicate (just like Franklyn W. Dixon.)

2. The Hardy Boys by Franklyn W. Dixon:

I was crazy about Frank and Joe Hardy. I loved reading about the crimes they solved and the trouble they got into. I devoured the mystery series and the case file series — or whatever was available in the school — in a year. Later, when the other series started filing out with Nancy Drew mixed into them, I kept my distance. I always disliked Nancy Drew. She is the epitome of a Mary Sue!

3. The Three Investigators by Robert Arthur Jr.:

These young detectives were a fascinating bunch. Whilst I loved it when the Hardy brothers got into fist fights, I enjoyed reading how Jupiter Jones’ brain worked to solve a mystery. He is like a mini-Sherlock (though I did not really make the connection then). I completed this set through seventh standard along with a few more of the Hardys.

4. Georgette Heyer:

Now this is where I took a huge leap, right from YA mysteries to sophisticated regency romances in the eighth standard!! I loved Heyer, and our school had almost all her romances. They didn’t keep any of her mysteries. I believe I am the only one in my class who took books from out of that particular shelf!

5. Alistair MacLean:

Yes. So from regency romances I dove headlong into war and spy books that I found absolutely thrilling. I recall this was around the time other kids were gorging on Perry Mason, but I thought the latter too tame once I’d tasted MacLean.

Let me make it clear, at this point, that I did read a lot of other stuff as well. The sixth standard was the time I read my very first unabridged classic — Pride and Prejudice — and loved it! It was a tattered old college copy of my mum’s. Once she realised I was ready for the classics, she just heaped them upon me. Mum’s collection is a library in itself! But the above were the writers I was introduced to in school.

Who were your favourite discoveries back in school? Did you go through a one-writer craze as well? Have you read any of the series/writers on this list? What do you think of them? Would you recommend them to young adults?

My Poetry

Pester and Marigold

blue green and purple poker chips
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com . This poem is written using the wordle prompt from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

The gate stood yawning wide,
rusted and uncared for,
the entry into another world —
a world of chaos.

Of dog bitten door mats,
and flee infested sofas;
of bloated tropical fish,
not underwater;

of grease smeared cushions,
and the smell of dirty socks;
of tables crawling with ‘roaches;
and broken chair seats.

The stairs were carpeted
with unwashed clothes;
One would wonder how anyone
was able to get up those.

A woman stepped out a door,
her hair decorously in place,
her lipstick shone burnt red,
round a hemmablind smile.

She drew up a seat —
the suspicion of a lizard’s tail
disappeared up a wooden leg —
and spilled out a bag of tokens.

One by one she counted them,
then turned around and whistled;
Pester ambled in — a shabby creature
with a pinfeather in his mouth.

He set a paw on the woman’s knee,
and gazed at the tokens curiously
as in a bag the final token she dropped,
and signed a cheque with ‘Marigold’.

Then up they got, and out the door —
shut with a bang of indifferent habit —
and down the broken cobbled path,
they walked back into misfortune.