Sunday, December 20, 2009

Literature and its Allure

My romance with literature is a complex one, like any other romance indeed. On the one hand, I find literature - and by that term I mean all written works whether fictional, prose, poetry or in any of the sciences, popular or professional - a marvellous escape from the work-a-day world and paradoxically, on the other, a deep and reflective involvement in that same world.

As I write these lines, I am trying to recall where and when that romance with books first began. I suppose it goes back to the dark and dismal 1960s when we were quite a poor working class family. I was a sensitive kid who knew that education provided one escape from the drab and miserable world about me. Then, I had good teachers, especially Mr. Murray in fourth class in primary school, who was a wonderful teacher and an absolutely fine gentleman who encouraged the young pupils he taught. While, like all the teachers of his era, he did use corporal punishment, I can never remember his abusing it, or even over-using it. He had a deep respect for his charges and, indeed, for learning. I learned a lot from that wonderful teacher, and I think he was the primary reason why I became a teacher myself. Under his stewardship I became an inveterate reader. I remember getting prizes of books for my academic achievements, the first one being Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe when I was ten years of age. It was one of the first great books that I read. Needless to say, in the sixties and early seventies I read numerous books by Enid Blighton and all those wonderful Biggles books by Captain W.E. Johns. I also loved the poems and the stories recounted in the school textbooks, which pale into insignificance with respect to layout and illustrations beside the modern ones that our young people have at their disposal today. Nevertheless, they were wonderful to the extent of their literary content. We were challenged, not alone with the wonderful world of words, but with the magic and wonder and allure of marvellous literature. What those books lacked in illustration, they made up for in their literary breadth and depth.

Another formative book I remember reading was the wonderful Twenty Years A-Growing by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, which I read later in the original. This book touched me greatly in both languages, and it led to my deep interest in the Irish language. Interestingly, it was Muiris's actor son, Eoin Ó Súilleabháin, who was one of the presenters of Buntús Cainte who caught my interest with his wonderful natural pronunciation of the Gaelic.

Anyway, there I was yesterday like a child in a candy shop while I looked through all the remaindered books in Hodges Figgis bookshop here in Dublin. Also I am addicted to the Amazon Book site where I buy all too many books. Be that as it may, I suppose book buying is a relatively harmless habit to have. I always tell myself that I should be spending far more if I were a smoker or a heavy drinker. Anyway, here are some books to wonder at, peruse or perhaps buy. These are the ones I bought in the last week:

1. Man's Search For Himself - Rollo May.

2. The Recovery of Being - Rollo May.

3. When Nietzsche Wept - Irvin D. Yalom.

4. The Schopenhauer Cure -Irvin D. Yalom.

5. The Yalom Reader -Irvin D. Yalom.

6. Cosmos - Carl Sagan.

7. The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing - Richard Dawkins.

8. 50 Mathematical Ideas - Tony Crilly.

9. 50 Philosophical Ideas - Ben Dupré.

10. Advice on Dying - The Dalai Lama.

11. The Form of Things - A.C. Grayling.

12. Origins of The Modern Mind - Merlin Donald.

13. The Voyage of the Beagle - Charles Darwin.

14. Our Universe - An Introduction - Patrick Moore.

15. Going Inside - John McCrone.

16. The Human Story - James C. Davis.

17. Freud's Wizard - Brenda Maddox.

18. Symposium and The Death of Socrates - Plato.

19. Empire Falls - Richard Russo.

Above a picture I took of the above pile of books.

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