Monday, August 1, 2011

Quotation(s) of the Week: On Literature

My upstairs bookshelves, chock full of my favorite literary gems

They are my addiction.

My first job was, after all, in a bookshop--the old orange-themed B. Dalton Booksellers in the nearest mall, Parkway Plaza. I worked in bookstores off and on for ten years: three B. Dalton stores (Parkway, Grossmont, and Glasshouse (Sports Arena & Rosecrans), and the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (HBJ) Bookstore on 5th and A in downtown San Diego.

So I worked in bookshops from my senior year of high school through college and then before and after graduate school. In fact, I was still working in the HBJ Bookstore during and after my pregnancy with Elizabeth. The mall stores were fine, but the HBJ Bookstore was incredible--the largest non-university bookstore in all of San Diego County--that is, until the Barnes and Nobles and Borders moved into town. It was not uncommon for customers to drive down from Los Angeles, one hundred miles to the north, for a Saturday afternoon of browsing. And it was not uncommon for some customers to purchase a few hundred dollars' worth of books in an afternoon.

And I was proud to stock the Poetry and the Belles Lettres (literary) sections; in fact, when the store closed in late 1992, I kept the Poetry sign from the top of the bookcase; it's pictured above, on top of my own private poetry "section."

On Friday night I spent the night with a dear poet friend who moved recently into San Diego proper. Over chicken marsala and pinot grigio, we discussed theology, poetry, literature, friendships, and many other topics. It's so lovely to have such a lovely kindred spirit with which to talk books and literature! She has her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry, while my Master of Arts is in plain old English--so she's more a writer of poetry while I am a student of poetry, prepared to sit at her feet and drink in her wisdom.

We re-discovered a forgotten (by myself, at least) truth: literature isn't only found in books. I toted an impressive stack of DVDs down the mountain with me for out evening pleasure, and we selected the classic The Philadelphia Story (1940) starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart. Over Ben and Jerry's Vanilla Heath Bar and my homebaked Cranberry Oatmeal cookies, we found that the screen writing of this classic film was simply incredible. The quick wit, the sly asides, beautifully acted with impeccable timing, of course--all combined to create a masterpiece not only of film but of literature as well.

Some people ask me regarding the definition of literature--versus just fiction, short stories, poetry, plays, etc. I consulted my Quotation Journal and unearthed a few gems to elucidate this term--after all, my undergraduate degree was not in English; it was in Literature--which is also Elizabeth's major at this time.

This first quote informs us about the reading of literature; the second, written by one of my favorite American authors (Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) is a delightful summer read), explores the writing of literature.

"The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it."
--Elizabeth Drew

"The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper--whether little or great, it belongs to Literature."
--Sarah Orne Jewett

As the summer winds down, July fading into August and schools starting over the next few weeks, perhaps we have time for just one more great work of literature to read on the beach, or, even better, perhaps a great writing concept awaits the attention of our pen or keyboard.

Only time shall tell true literature from the mere book....

Literarily yours,

1 comment:

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Greetings from the UK.

I looked very hard at your bookshelves and could not see my book. Never mind.

My favorite quote about books is: From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.
(Groucho Marx).

I suspect he would have said that to me had we ever met.

God bless.


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