Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans 130 (W. Pauck, trans.) (Westminster John Knox Press 1961):
[T]his life is a life of cure from sin; it is not a life of sinlessness, as if the cure were finished and health had been recovered. The church is an inn and an infirmary for the sick and for convalescents. Heaven, however, is the palace where the whole and the righteous live.
Justin Lee, “In The Age Of #MeToo, Men Must Read More Literary Fiction,” ARC (Nov. 6, 2018) [link]. Lee argues that fiction reading impacts the reader’s ability to place themselves in another’s shoes:
Reading fiction requires a sustained act of imagination: you inhabit a world of others, identify with their joys and travails, even learn the texture of their minds. Serious readers know that reading great fiction enhances their ability to empathize. And habitual reading helps sustain that empathy, makes it reflexive.
This (not surprisingly) makes me think of a well-known quotation from another Lee:
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) (Atticus speaking to his daughter, Scout).
I believe both Lees are correct.
In April 1941 (long before the entry of the U.S. into the war), the British had had some success in the tank campaign in North Africa, and it became necessary for “a terribly important convoy of tanks . . . to risk the perilous Mediterranean route” at which point Winston Churchill “informed the Cabinet of the timetable, adding:
‘‘If anyone’s good at praying, now is the time.’’
Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2011) (Kindle ed. loc. 2424-26).
I love it.
May we remember that all times are the time.
Sometimes it is nice to revisit a novel you have not read in a long time:
“The procedures of the law are much discussed, and people know about lawyers and courts and prisons and punishment and all that sort of thing, but that is just the apparatus through which the law works. And it works in the cause of justice. Now, justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render to everyone his due. Every law student has to learn that.”
Robertson Davies, The Manticore (1972) (p. 62 in the Penguin ed.).
Some people find the re-reading of novels to be odd, but it seems to me not unlike listening to a favorite piece of music, or viewing a well-loved painting, or returning to a known hike, or visiting an old friend. You do not return for an identical experience, for you yourself are different.
Another nice passage, this one about about advocacy from David Staunton’s legal mentor:
“I think you’ll make an advocate,” said he. “You have the two necessities, ability and imagination. A good advocate is his client’s alter ego; his task is to say what his client would say for himself if he had the knowledge and the power. Ability goes hand in hand with the knowledge: the power is dependent on imagination. But when I say imagination I mean capacity to see all sides of a subject and weigh all possibilities; I don’t mean fantasy and poetry and moonshine; imagination is a good horse to carry you over the ground, not a flying carpet to set you free from probability.”
Recommended to me by my brother-in-law (the polymath), an old* piece from Nick Carr on the values of reading:
In our day-to-day routines, we are always trying to manipulate or otherwise act on our surroundings, whether it’s by turning a car’s steering wheel or frying an egg or tapping a button on a smartphone. But when we open a book, our expectations and attitudes change. Because we understand that “we cannot or will not change the work of art by our actions,” we are relieved of our desire to exert an influence over objects and people and hence can “disengage our [cognitive] systems for initiating actions.” That frees us to become absorbed in the imaginary world of the literary work.
Nicholas Carr, “The Dreams of Readers” Rough Type (Jan. 9, 2014) [link] (Carr is quoting Norman Holland in the internal quotations.)
That seems to me to be exactly right. If we read properly, we are not immediately arguing with everything. We can listen to an author in a way that we too seldom listen to the people in the room with us. This is easier with novels than with history and easier with either than with newspaper editorials, but (I think) always easier with the written than the spoken word.
*Obviously, if I am just now reading blog posts from 2014, I am never going to catch up. Fortunately, this piece seems to be included in Carr’s new book, Utopia is Creepy and Other Provocations (2017) [link]. That can be my next book of essays after The View from the Cheap Seats, which I continue to dip into when I am between books.
Peggy Noonan, who once wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan, just won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. It is well-deserved.
For a list of her pieces that won, go to “The 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary,” The Pulitzer Prizes (Apr. 10, 2017) [link]. My favorite is “Imagine a Sane Donald Trump,” Wall Street Journal (Oct. 22, 2016).
The other winners are also listed at http://www.pulitzer.org.
“Reality is unforgivingly complex.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird 104 (1994).
“You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone else the . . . appalling . . . strangeness of the mercy of God.”
Graham Greene, Brighton Rock 297 (Everyman’s 1993, orig. 1938).
“Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I ask’d; mercy I found.”
attributed to William Camden (1551-1623).
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
from T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, “East Coker” IV:21-25 (1940) [link] [link].
We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.
W.H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio (A. Jacobs, ed. 2014).
Thus the value of great fiction, we begin to suspect, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations.
John Gardner, The Art of Fiction 31 (1983).
Of course Gardner does not hold this thought without reservation (notice the “we begin to suspect”), but he reasonably prompts us to add this to our internal lists of what fiction is for. I had forgotten how enjoyable this book is.