The title is actually a corruption of Ecclesiastes 12:12 wherein “the preacher,” whoever that was–the implication is that he is Solomon, but I wonder–said, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
We beg to differ. But of course, we have access to a much greater variety of books than even Solomon did.
One of my friends begins our too-infrequent visits with, “What books are you reading?” and another with, “What book is by your bedside at this moment?”
My wife laughs at that last question, because for me, it’s not “book,” but “books.” Usually a pile of them. Some I read, some I started on and stopped, and often I’m somewhere in the midst of three or four which I fully intend to finish.
The ones by my bed at the moment are mostly World War II era books. I don’t get very far at night before sleep beckons. I’m halfway through “You Must Remember This: The Filming of Casablanca.” I checked it out of the Jefferson Parish Library, one of my favorite places. “Casablanca” is one of my favorite movies.
The last book I finished was–ready for this?–Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” I know, I know, it’s a “woman’s book.” Here’s how it happened that I came to read it.
A few months ago, I mentioned here that Greer Garson is one of my favorite old-time movie stars. I’d just read a biography of her, “A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson” by Michael Troyan. Soon, TCM played her 1930-ish movie “Pride and Prejudice” so I watched it, and was smitten. Great movie, excellent role.
Then, a few weeks ago, PBS ran the 1995 BBC-A&E 6 hour adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” on several Sunday nights. This time, I wasn’t smitten; I was blown away. What a fascinating movie. The central character of P & P is Elizabeth Bennett, which was Greer Garson’s role. In the 1995 version, Jennifer Ehle has the part and may I say, will forever own it. If ever a person was born for a particular role, it is she.
(My English teacher at Winston County High, Pearl Lovett, would beam at my saying, “It is she.” Everything inside me wants to say,”It’s her!”)
Then, two things happened. I noticed Barnes & Noble has an entire shelf of “classics,” defined by Mark Twain as books everyone wants to have read but no one wants to read, including P & P, for about 7 dollars. A bargain, and I bought it. Then, in the atrium at Ochsner Hospital a few days later, a bookseller had a huge display of discounted books, among them the three DVDs of the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” along with a book on its making. I bought it, and quickly devoured it.
The wonderful thing is how true to the book was that movie.
Since then, I’ve quietly asked and found that many of my friends (the female variety) have read Jane Austen’s P & P five times, ten times. Few men have read it once.
The funniest thing. At the end of the Barnes & Noble book, they’ve included a couple of pages of paragraphs by famous writers about this book. No one was neutral, they loved it or hated it. Here are two excerpts you will enjoy.
“Nothing very much happens in her books, and yet, when you come to the bottom of a page, you eagerly turn it to learn what will happen next. Nothing very much does and again you eagerly turn the page. The novelist who has the power to achieve this has the most precious gift a novelist can possess.” (W. Somerset Maugham)
“Jane Austen’s books, too, are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.” (Mark Twain)
But I loved it.
I’m sort of reading “Maisie Dobbs” and the second in that series “Birds of a Feather” by Jacqueline Winspear, a nice British lady who was in town last week for a book-signing at Octavia Books in uptown. I went by, met her, bought the latest in the series, and listened to her tell how she came to write these novels. Since I’ve taken all your time to tell about Pride & Prejudice, I’ll not go into that lengthy story.
However, I’m struck by the power of a novelist. You have some strong convictions, prejudices, opinions, desires, or regrets, and you sit at the computer and create a world–or a tiny sliver of it–and populate it with people who will carry out your wishes, speak your words, undo what you did and maybe get it right this time, or inflict punishment on someone you’d like to. Novelists are gods in their own microscopic universes.
I don’t write fiction, but I love reading it. Often it’s truer than the non-fiction found on most bookshelves. You are actually telling a true story, but since it’s a novel and not supposed to pertain to any particular persons, you can let it all hang out, tell the full story, and simply change a few names and falsify enough details that it passes as a novel. If you do it well, you can change lives or even transform society. Many novels have.
The best reading of all is the Scriptures. Nothing supplants that. I start every day with several chapters. At the moment, I’m in the middle of II Kings–underlining, high-lighting, and marking up this Bible to give to my granddaughter Erin when I finish.
The Bible occupies a class all alone. It’s the only book I know you can read repeatedly and find new insights every time which eluded you all the previous times.
So, what are you reading? What book is on your nightstand?