The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester

It’s hard not to be enchanted by a book called The Meaning of Everything.  Harder still to avoid its siren call when that title is followed with the subtitle The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary and paired with an author’s name that is so typically and wonderfully British that it seems the author was named specifically to compliment the book.  But when said book chronicling the story of the English language’s most definitive dictionary has a chapter entitled, “The Hermit and the Murderer–and Hereward Thimbleby Price” it becomes truly irresistible.  Having read hundreds of books and thousands of chapters, I can say definitively that there is no more disarmingly charming and unexpected chapter title than this.

Unfortunately, the above mention chapter is far into the book and the intrigue it presents in what–at first glance–may seem to be a “dry” subject comes some six chapters equaling 185 pages (nearly three full quarters of the book) after you begin.  Chapter length can be a bit daunting.  But, never fear, the chapters are arranged to have several sections in each, so you can easily pause mid-chapter, and the bewitching playfulness of chapter seven’s title is, by then, a standard well-kept from the Prologue of this wonderful book.

Considering the subject matter, it seems only fitting that I finished this book the day I chose by happy accident to wear the t-shirt proudly proclaiming myself to be a bibliophibian (meaning one who breathes both books and water, a word the OED has yet to see fit to include in its honorable tomes).  After all, one learns, the strongest tradition of the OED is the legions of volunteer readers who send in quotations illustrating obscure, old, out-dated, merely out-of-fashion, current, or entirely new senses of words.  I want this job.

The breadth and depth of the project that took nearly seventy years to complete, as well as seven Senior Editors (though three remain vastly uncredited, as nothing beyond sample pages were published while they handled the project), is summarily encased in the prologue of the book, which graciously provides the specs of the first edition of the OED: 12 tombstone sized volumes containing 15, 490 pages of single spaced text cover the then 414,825 words of the English language with 1,827,306 illustrative quotations.  These contained a total 227,779,589 letters and numbers which occupied 178 miles of type.  All of this represented the work of several lifetimes, much of it donated by those who wished to help the scholarly endeavor.

As I’ve learned, the OED was a source of light and hope to many people.  In fact, it was exactly that for the hermit and murder of chapter seven fame.  A man once honored in the peak of the academic world was wrongfully ousted from his high seat and responded in hermitic fashion.  He spent the remaining thirty-two years of his life cloistered by his anger, but kept company by the Dictionary for many of these.  He is widely regarded as one of the greatest contributors and, in return, his academic standing was–if not returned–proved by his contributions.  The other was a schizophrenic with psychotic episodes who also found his redemption in the pages of “the Big Dictionary” (as long-time Senior Editor James Murray called it).  During one of his psychotic episodes, he shot a man.  This lead to him finding himself with time in abundance in a psychiatric facility.  Rather than actively contribute, however, he waited for requests from the Dictionary staff.  Once received, he would respond to a request by pulling out scads of homemade books of illustrative quotations (organized by source book, no less) and provide the information needed, plus any extra the staff could have wished for.  In the matter of a day or two.

Of course, Sir James Murray was no stranger to the redeeming qualities of the book.  As Senior Editor to what eventually became the OED, he saw these stories as well as was part of them.  There were endless arguments with the publishers, and he nearly always emerged the winner.  He was dedicated to the purity and academic quality of the book, regardless of the quantity it required.  He had a high regard for accuracy, and for every enemy this made him, it made him–the book seems to imply–at least one full hundred friends.  Considering that he began the process with red hair and beard and never lived to see it end (passing away with the most spectacularly white beard), one might say these friends were well deserved.

But, as interesting as the story and the book’s people are, I wish to leave the reading of it to you.  Half the fun of this book is the discovery.

As for the book’s style, well, it is simply marvelous.  There is no reason that historical records should be boring, but they seem to end up that way more often than not.  Winchester not only manages to avoid that trap, I don’t think there’s a single moment I can even call the book slow or slightly dull.  His storytelling style is engaging.  He doesn’t hesitate to meander into the rabbit trails that we so often find ourselves following in oral tellings of stories.  In fact, he makes an art of it.  But each meandering has a significance of its own and yet, as fun as they are, Winchester always has a more interesting tidbit that brings you back to the main story, more interested than ever.  As one should expect in a book about the überdictionary, he also makes sure to use words that require a little thinking, perhaps even use of the subject.  And he never lacks illustrative quotations. 😉

Speaking of illustrations, included are several pictures worth looking at.  Winchester was very careful to give a face to the main players of the Dictionary, as well as as many minor characters as he could.  Admittedly, this helps quite a bit, and the cheery Santa-like man in an academic cap from the cover of the book (and his associates) becomes alive in the book.

Also, the footnotes alone are worth reading the book.  Many are hilarious, some poignant, some a mere word or two, others full paragraphs.  They are beautiful (and full of rabbit trails).

Conversational without foundering in purposelessness, informative while hardly punctilious, fast-paced but never sloppy, this book is possibly one of the best stories I have read.  It’s also entirely true.  It sings of unsung heroes, which I love considering that many books like this choose to honor only one or two of that breed.  Winchester honors thousands, and names as many as possible.  He says of them:

We know these things [about the volunteers], but we do not really know why so many people gave so much of their time for so little apparent reward.  And this is the abiding and most marvellous mystery of the enormously democratic process that was the Dictionary–that hundreds upon hundreds of people, for motives known and unknown, for reasons both stated and left unsaid, helped to chronicle these immense complexities of the language that was their own, and that they dedicated in many cases–such as the Thompson sisters [two dedicated volunteers who sub-edited all letters following C] did–years upon years of labor to a project of which they all, buoyed by some set of unfathomable and optimistic notions, insisted on becoming a part.  The Thompson sisters of Liverpool, Reigate, and Bath, living an otherwise blameless and unremarkable (though moneyed) suburban life in three most ordinary English towns, left no greater memorial than the one they performed for the greatest literary enterprise of history.  They became footnotes in eight-point Clarendon type in a preface to a volume of that enterprise.  That was truly their only reward–and yet in all likelihood they, and scores of others like them, surely wanted no other.

I can think of no better description of the legion of volunteers.  The most blameless and unremarkable of people (though, Winchester is careful to note there were several remarkables as well) dedicated lives to this Dictionary.  Thankfully, as grand as these figures are, the book also celebrates the imperfection of the men on the project, as well as occasionally mentioning the newest edition’s men and women who are already recognizing their own potential failings and compensating for it.  He clearly has great respect for the old and new guards.

I went into reading this book loving the OED.  I would not have survived my thesis (or several bouts with one particularly vexing professor) without it.  I have come out of the experience with nothing less than a dedication bordering on worship to the book and the history that it encompasses in its depths.  It is truly a work for the ages and I so look forward to 2037 when, 44 years after work began on it, the Third Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is projected to be released.


P.S.  If any of you were wondering, I chose not to update yesterday in the hopes I could finish this book today.  Normally, this will not happen, but as I published twice on Thursday, I felt a little better about it.


God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut

I have never been down the long blue tunnel, but when I go, I will seek out two people: Vonnegut and Kevorkian. The first, to thank. The second, to interview endlessly of intentions and opinions. (Good for you if you got it.)

Turns out that within days of making this goal (it was either three days before or three days after), I read this book, so I’m calling it good and counting it.  So there.  Also, I’ll feel less like I’m scrambling since I’ve been too busy to do much reading lately and, well, it gets difficult to read one book a week, much less  two to get on the schedule I want to be on.  This will make book three and get me caught up until tomorrow, which happens in just a few minutes by the time I finish this review.  Oh, well.  I’m not too worried.

So far as I can tell, no one has yet written a good back-of-the-book summary to a single Vonnegut work.  So, I’ll do my best to follow in that tradition while still giving you a clue of the content.  Kurt Vonnegut, voluntary reporter on the after-life via controlled near-death experiences at the hands of Dr. Kevorkian, writes small essays on the famous and not so famous that he meets just inside and outside the pearly gates.  Some of the essays are laughter inducing.  Some of them are thought-provoking.  Some of them make you worry, and yet others make you sad.  They make up one of the dearest, most beautiful books I have ever read.

I am no Modernist, nor am I particularly Post-Modern.  Vonnegut managed to fall under both literary categories at different times in his career and I can see shades of both in this book, but they are not oppressive.  He is charming and funny, sweet and caring, angry and bitter, humanity at it’s best.   I forget that he is considered one of the truly greats in literature while reading this book, and am rather swept away on a journey getting to know some big people and some little people, every one with some important story to tell.  (By the way, get a copy with the 2010 introduction by Neil Gaiman and read it.  I’ve read it with and without.  Something about the introduction makes it infinitely better, while not changing a single thing.)

I remember the moment that I determined I would slap Thomas Jefferson the moment I saw him in the after-life.  I’ve long wanted to meet John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and dared hope that I might shake hands with Washington (though, while I might dream of having something to say to the brash Adams and the coarse Franklin, I know I’ve nothing in my repertoire for Washington), but I’ve never had much use for Jefferson.  Yes, the Declaration was a fine piece of work.   Huzzah for you, sir.  But after reading the interview with John Brown, Connecticut Yankee hanged for attempting to arm slaves, I would search Jefferson out first. For, as John so eloquently put it, “He said there was a Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, who had actually encapsulated God in only six words: ‘All men are created equal.’   [He said], ‘This perfect gentleman, sophisticated, scientific, wise … was able to write those incomparable words while owning slaves.  Tell me: Am I really the only person to realize that he, by his example, made our beautiful country an evil society from the very first, where subservience of persons of color to white people was deemed in perfect harmony with natural law?'”  Truly, this fact never made me comfortable, but it wasn’t until I read it said this way that I knew why I never had much use for Jefferson.

The interview with Hitler is a real treasure.  It, I think, is all one could hope for, were Hitler given the chance to apologise.  Were he to be too apologetic, many would call him insincere.  Were he to refuse, the whole world would be in an uproar in minutes.  But the simple, “I beg your pardon,” is a reasonable expression, a way of saying, “I can never excuse the magnitude of what I have done, but I am so very sorry.”

Possibly one of my favorite subjects addressed is the death penalty.  The victim that Kurt, the reporter, comes upon on one of his many trips down the blue tunnel puts it succinctly: “[The Governor of Texas is] a murderer, too.  He murdered me.”

These are just a few of the particular and poignant moments that stood out to me.  There are many.  When the reporter falls in love is a true gem.  Saint Peter and a balloonist arguing definitions of heaven is an adorable scene as well.  There is much to love and think about in a book so small.  It’s easily read in ninety minutes to two hours at a slow pace.  I highly recommend this reporter’s view of life from the gates of the after-life.


Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

I love this book.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve read this book before.  I loved it then, but I was reading it for such a specific purpose that I missed some of the best and most beautiful moments.  I also mentioned that I suspected that C.S. Lewis was the “beast” in the story, but wasn’t sure.

I am now positive he is not, though I am similarly positive he is Orual, the jealous sister.  While the jealous sisters in the original version of “Cupid and Psyche” can be considered one of the many beasts (Venus and Cupid themselves playing the role of the beast at different times as well) the true beast in this version is love.  It took me almost the entire book to realize it, but I’m sure I’m right.  Though it follows that the book’s Venus/Aphrodite (Ungit) and Cupid (the Brute) would then be the beast, as these two are godly incarnations of love, they are not.  If anything, they are the true beauties, and Istra (also known as Psyche) is only reflecting their pure, healthy love.

Perhaps I should amend my earlier statement:  the true beast is human love, love that does not seek the divine.  And, while I balk at the concept (I’m human and I love people!), I have to agree.  The divine love he speaks of is not unattainable by the humans of the story.  Psyche is living proof of this.  It is just rarely attained, because of petty jealousies, predilection to ownership, anger at split affection, and a dangerous, self-serving tendency to wish to control all those we love so that they never leave us.  All of this I have observed and sometimes felt myself, so I cannot deny that it exists in humanity.  Lewis pokes and prods with careful, but hardly gentle, fingers at these sores in our humanity (and, I think (as I have mentioned), in himself).

Here is a synopsis from the back of the book:  In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses–one beautiful and one unattractive–C. S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction.  This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who possessively and harmfully loves Psyche.  Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.

I’m not sure I like this description.  It’s not very good, and misrepresents a lot of the book.  But it gets the idea across.

There are many revealing moments within the novel.  I wish I could type them all for proofs of what a disease love can be.  However, here are a few of my favorites.

1) The possessive love of Orual:

“I wanted to be a wife so I could have been [Psyche’s] real mother.  I wanted to be a boy so that she could be in love with me.  I wanted her to be my full sister instead of my half sister.  I wanted her to be a slave so that I could set her free and make her rich.”

2) The manipulative love (born of jealousy) of Orual:

“I flung back my cloak further, trust out my bare left arm, and struck the dagger into it till the point pricked out on the other side.  Pulling the iron back through the wound was the worse pain; but I can hardly believe now how little I felt it…

Maia,’ said Psyche, ‘what did you do that for?’

‘To show you I’m in earnest, girl.  Listen.  You have driven me to desperate courses.  I give you your choice.  Swear on this edge, with my blood still wet on it, that you will this very night do as I have commanded you; or else I’ll first kill you and then myself.’

‘Orual,’ said she, very queenlike, raising her head, ‘you might have spared that threat of killing me.  All your power over me lies in the other.’

‘Then swear, girl.  You never knew me break my word.’

The look in her face now was on I did not understand.  I thin a lover–I mean, a man who loved–might look so on a woman who had been false to him.  And at last she said,

‘You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know.  It is like looking into a deep pit.  I am not sure whether I like your kind better than hatred.  Oh, Orual–to take my love for you, because you know it does down to my very roots and cannot be diminished by any other newer love, and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy and mastery, an instrument of torture–I begin to think I never knew you.  Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies here.’

‘Enough of your subtleties,’ said I. ‘Both of us die here, in plainest truth and blood, unless you swear.'”

3) The cruel love of Orual:

“I had rejoiced when there was a press of work, had heaped up needless work to keep [Bardia, my captain of the guard] late at the palace, plied him with questions for the mere pleasure of hearing his voice.  Anything to put off the moment when he would go and leave me to my emptiness.  And I had hated him for going.  Punished  him too.  Men have a hundred ways of mocking a man who’s thought to love his wife too well, and Bardia was defenceless; everyone knew he’d married an undowered girl, and Ansit boasted that she’d no need (like most) to seek out the ugliest girls in the slave-market for her household.  I never mocked him myself; but I had endless sleights and contrivances (behind my veil) for pushing the talk in such directions as, I knew, would make the others mock him.  I hated them for doing it, but I had a bittersweet pleasure at his clouded face.  Did I hate him, then?  Indeed, I believe so.  A love like that can grow to be nine-tenths hatred and still call itself love.  One thing’s certain; in my mad midnight fantasies (Ansit dead, or, better still, proved whore, witch, or traitress) when he was at last to be seeking my love, I always had him begin by imploring my forgiveness.  Sometimes he had hard work to get it.  I would bring him within an ace of killing himself first.”

These are the fruits of human love in the book.  Pain, bitterness, hatred of others and self, but–above all–emptiness.  I gasped when I read that first quote this second time around.  How had I missed all the disease that was already rotting her love?  The manipulation Orual accomplishes so that she will not be alone (which, of course, backfires horribly on both parties concerned) is unfathomable.  And, of course, in her old age she not only recognizes the emptiness, but uses a horrid love that is “nine-tenths hatred” to fill it.  It is amazing to see what we humans can do in the name of “love.”  And, as if we are not quite satisfied with the extent of the pain we cause, after opening these deep cavities in others, we then salt the wounds, to ensure that they hurt exquisitely enough.  I say that we do this, and not the characters, because I am not blind enough to pretend that this book is a caricature.  Poisonous love exists and it is not those who understand divine/pure/healthy love that perpetrate it.  It is the worst of what it is human.

Thankfully, Lewis also covers the best of what is human as well.  The title of the book reflects it: Till We Have Faces.  At the moment we are able to acknowledge was is real and true about others, we cannot hate them.  Orual writes her book as a charge, a hateful diatribe, against the gods who have wronged her by removing the one thing in her life she loved: her sister, Psyche.  The way she puts it, when she sees Cupid/the Brute’s face, “I now know, Lord, why you utter no answer.  You are yourself the answer.  Before your face questions die away.  What other answer would suffice?  Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words…”

I love this truth: before the true face of a person, all questions die away.  If we are willing to look beyond the surface of what we expect to see, of what people project themselves, we will find the beginnings of that love.  Words will battle no more.  This is a much simpler concept for me to express, but a harder one to practice, I think.

Till We Have Faces is a brilliant book.  I am sure that the next time I read it, many new things  will occur to me.  Opinions will change.  All these things I am sure of this time will likely be the things I am least sure of next time.  But I will always recommend it.  Orual’s journey to find her own face within herself and find divine love is a quest that resonates within the human experience.

This book also poses a question that I was unable to answer, but I wish to open to anyone who would like to consider it themselves: As we destroy ourselves with fantasy, do we also destroy reality?

Just a thought.


P.S. Incidentally, this book also carries one of my favorite quotes as a writer:  “I was with book, as a woman is with child.”  How awesome is that?!

Mid-Book Discussion: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

So, right now, I’m reading two books to make it to the one book a week since I made the resolution late.  Next week will also be a two book week.  So I apologize for the inundation of blogs that will be happening over the next few weeks as I give the Friday reviews/mid-book discussions and then the reviews as I finish the books I discuss.  It’ll certainly be an adventure.  Hopefully, it’ll end soon.

Thankfully, I’ve read this book before, so this discussion is more of what I’m discovering again rather than what I’m hoping to see.  I’m reading the book again because I read the book the first time with a specific purpose.  The first time I read the book, I was working on my thesis.  My thesis was a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast and my research was, mainly, reading as many versions of the faerie tale that I could get my hands on.  I read several short story versions and two novel versions.  This was one.  Because I was reading with such specific goals, I know I missed certain things.

What I didn’t miss, and I’m so grateful I did not, was that this is truly his best work.  I love what I have read of the Narnia books (I know, I know, they’re on the list) and I adore The Screwtape Letters, but nothing surpasses this book.  The book is dedicated to Joy Davidman, the American woman who became his wife in a religious ceremony the same year around the same time (I cannot determine whether the book preceded the marriage or the marriage preceded the book–it was a near thing).

The couple had entered into a civil union as a matter of kindness on his part several years earlier so that she could remain in England.  He enjoyed her company and intellectual companionship.  However, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and when faced with this, Lewis finally saw something he had not been able to see before.  Joy was on her hospital bed, but they were finally married. Joy finally had a face.  To me, this book is proof of that.  It is terrible and it is beautiful.  It is an accusation and a celebration.  These things I remember.

What I’ve noticed this time around is what a love letter this truly is.  I think Lewis put much more of  himself  into the main character, Orual, than I previously noticed.  I was paying much more attention to her sister, the Psyche character, than her.  I think Orual, who presents her life as an accusation against the gods, is Lewis accusing the universe that dared harm his wife.  This same Orual comes back to the book after she thinks she has finished it to discover–in one night!–how her perspective has changed and tries to share it but dies on the manuscript; this is Lewis attempting, in his poor way, to share his transcendent love with friends who could not accept his marriage to a woman who raised him beyond what he ever aspired to.  Orual, who covered her face from the world for her entire life, ugly and afraid, is Lewis hiding the ugliness of his anger and fear of Joy’s death.

I’ll find out as I go on.  The first time I read this book, I was unaware of the background.  Having read it once, I’ve found its beauty.  I have found Joy in this book.  Now, I look for Lewis.  Now, I look for the beast.

I wonder: are they the same?


Myths of Light by Joseph Campbell

May I begin by saying how DENSE Campbell is?  Because he is, horrifically so.

Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal caught my eye for a couple reasons.   1) My mythology “section” in my library, I am ashamed to admit, is Greco-Roman centric to the point that it is Greco-Roman almost in its entirety, with an honorable mention for the slowly blossoming Celtic and Norse sub-sections.  There is almost nothing that is Eastern in it, not for lack of interest, but lack of necessity.  For the last several years I have been studying in a Classics and Western-based curriculum.  Here was a chance, in a small book of lectures from an expert in the field, to broaden my horizons.  2) I love light metaphors.  Kill two birds with one stone.   The inside of the jacket is far too long to transcribe, as well as being unnecessarily wordy (a problem Campbell persists in throughout the manuscript), but the gist of the book comes in the last paragraph: In Myths of Light, Campbell explores the core philosophies and mythologies of the East, comparing them through vivid examples and stories to each other and to the West. A worthy companion to [another book about the underlying Judeo-Christian mythologies] and to Campbell’s Asian Journals, this volume conveys complex insights through warm, accessible storytelling, revealing the intricacies and secrets of Campbell’s subject with his typical enthusiasm.

After typing that, I feel as if I should have put a caveat lector at the beginning of this post, but I’ll insert it now:  I will be using the words myth, tradition, and religion interchangeably (as the book itself does). I do not do this because I do not respect religion; I respect it enormously.  I do it because I am trained to think as a mythologist.  Myths are, or have been at one time, sacred narratives–mankind’s explanations of the world–simple as that.  That does  not mean they are not true, partially or completely.  It just means that myths are myths.  It is only recently that “myth” has come to mean “falsehood” and I dislike that usage greatly.  So please, understand that I respect, and hold my own religious belief, but still call it myth.  In fact, as an interesting side note, the Greek word mythos meant “word” (as in, “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” kind of word) until Aristotle hijacked it.  Then it took on a meaning more similar to “story” or “plot.”  But I digress.  Summation: tradition=myth=religion=not a bad thing!

Moving on.

Two weeks ago my sister and I attended a musical.  We had a fabulous time.  Later, on the drive home, we were discussing the musical and how heart-wrenching it was.  We came to the conclusion that we had not had an enjoyable experience, but we had had a good one.  This, I think, perfectly describes how I feel about reading Campbell.

Not long after getting into the book, I found myself wondering just where Campbell stood religiously, not because it mattered, but because he made it painfully clear he did not ascribe to the Christian tradition.  It was also clear he revered Eastern traditions, but that seemed to be it.  I found it odd that he was so clear in his derision for the Christian myth, but so very vague about what (non)belief system he ascribed to.  But, since it did not matter, I purposely chose not to look it up.  Upon finishing, I concluded that Campbell was either an atheist or a follower of an Eastern religion (though I could never choose which one, he venerates all of them).  I still have not looked in the attempt to keep the experience innocent of the matter.

Now, why does this matter to me when I have already said it does not matter to the book’s content?  Because I found that I understood certain passages more clearly if I assumed he was taking the atheist’s point of view and yet understood others better if I felt he was taking the religious point of view.  It was strange, though somewhat enlightening.  This book is actually a collection of lectures conflated into an introduction, three chapters, and an “envoy.”  I think perhaps some of the reason I found certain sections to be better if I assumed the lecturer was one who had a concept of a world with no god or a world with a god is because of this.  After reading this book, I fully trust Campbell to be enough of a Devil’s Advocate to have argued both sides during his long career.

Now, to the book’s content itself.  I do not agree with many of Campbell’s assertions about Occidental (aka Western and Near Eastern) religion.  I think his attitude towards it is lamentable and unenlightened.  But, as I ascribe to an Occidental religion, I would expect that this would be the case.  That being said, I get back to the first point I made with the story about the musical: it was not an enjoyable experience, but it was a good one.  It amazes me, that though Campbell and I disagree about much, he was still able to teach me quite a bit of factual knowledge and lead me places where I could make my own conclusions.  He is the consummate teacher.  In a classic move, he would purposely leave a conversation unfinished, forcing the reader to put down the book and think.  It was beautiful.

In this book, Campbell consciously used more sources in his psychological proofs than he usually does.  Normally, he’s very Freudian.  I recognize Campbell’s genius and contribution to the field of mythological research, but Freudian psychology is very hard for me to swallow.  I prefer Jungian.  In this series of lectures, he used Freud, Jung, and Adler to great effect.  It was a nice change and made for a much more pleasant reading experience.  Using Freud for comparison is just the way I like him.  Though I do wish he had used Lacan.  No one uses Lacan enough (probably because he was insane, but oh was he ever good).

I would like to address each “chapter.”  They were each a lecture on a specific part of Eastern mythology, though each could have easily been its own novella.  There was much repeated information, which is also the mark of a good teacher (though, by the end, I was screaming in my head,”I’VE HEARD THIS ALREADY, I JUST WANT IT TO BE OVER!!!!” but that was more an impatience thing than a bad writing thing).

First, the Introduction and Envoy.  These I will address together.  They are wonderful.  Read them, even if you read nothing else in the entire book.  They are small glimpses of a better way to look at oneself, as well as an insight into Campbell himself.  He loved myth, everything about it.  He did not always love the way mankind took myth and twisted it to his use, but myth itself?  This was Campbell’s bliss.  As the introduction said, “with his typical enthusiasm.”  There is no better description for Campbell’s approach to these short sections.  These sections are even accessible, as the jacket flap claims, which is NOT the case elsewhere.  Campbell does not do accessible.

Second, I wish to cover the second chapter, “The Jiva’s Journey.”   This is by far the most laborious and ridiculous chapter of the whole book.  All the points are interesting and valid, but as he tries to make each fit into the original thesis, the reader is lost.  It is also sixty-seven pages long.  The sub-sections are not distinct enough to provide good stopping points.  I had to remind myself over and over again what the main point of the chapter was.  If you do not read anything in this book, do not read this chapter.  Ugh.  This is Campbell at his most didactic and pedantic.  And I can put up with quite a bit of that schlep.

Next, the third chapter, “Vessels to the Farther Shore.”  This chapter is a summary Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  It’s very nice.  The content is smart without being too difficult, it’s a good overview and makes you think and consider without indoctrinating you.  I find I like Campbell’s teaching style more than I like his conclusions most of the time.  In this chapter, I like both.

The last one is the first chapter, “The Birth of Brahman.”  This chapter was a revelation.  It broke my brain.  It made me take the time to put my brain back together, just to get it broken again.  This had very little to do with what Campbell said, but what he started to say and had me finish saying.  I thought deeper about my perspectives because of this chapter than any other in this book.  I also disagreed with him more in this chapter than any other in this book.  If you are going to read any of the actual lectures, this is the one.  I feel like this is the best example of his teaching.  His metaphors are interesting, but require you to process as well.  And, of course, this teacher really doesn’t mind if you disagree, so feel free to! 😀

I liked the book.  It was a good read.  There is no reason why I would not read his other books, though certainly I would be careful with his Judeo-Christian material given how acerbic he was in the few moments here.  I recommend it with reservations.  Religious material is difficult, and mythology is religion as much as religion is mythology.  The beautiful partnership makes for a good read, but you have to be sure of which side of the line you stand on before you read something by someone who crosses it regularly.



Good day! Salutations!  Hello there!  Hi!  Welcome!

Goodness.  After that display, I feel like King Azaz’s cabinet.  Which may not be entirely inaccurate.

The idea of this blog was birthed between two blogs.  The first being Sisters Lost in a Library, the book review blog I share with my older sister.  The second blog, The Stories Begun, is my writing blog and though it was helpful in this venture, it really was a specific entry that combined with Sisters to make this blog.

In said entry, called “Was it Reading or Anaesthetizing?”, I talked about how reading can do one of two things for me: broaden my experience or help me deal with excess stimuli, hence “reading” and “anaesthetizing.”  As a writer, the first is good, the second is undesirable at best.  So, to prevent myself from falling back into a bad habit I had gained in college (reading as an anaesthetic can be very helpful when classes get difficult), I made the goal to read one book a week this year that was clearly not an anaesthetic.  This blog is where I talk about my experience with those books.  Though I already have a review blog, this one is my personal experience learning to read again, the very act which taught me to love literature enough to want to study it in college.  I want to be awake in my library again, in the endless library that is this world.

So why did I chose the web address “,” then?  The point of this blog is to be awake, yes?  Yes.  However, for as long as I can remember, I have taken a book to bed with me.  Where others had blankets and stuffed animals, I fell asleep with a book in hand.  True, I made room for the others in my bed, but the books were always nearest to my reach.

Most of my reading, certainly my most contemplative reading, is done in my bed.   That is the space where my endless library begins.  It is also the place where my day’s reading ends, as I am forced to lovingly tuck the book under my pillow, for I have woken up to the book falling from my hands to my chest once more.  In many ways, this is also where I leave my endless library, blithely zoning out with books that I should be tempering with better quality novels.

So,  this blog will document my experiment, my attempt to reclaim my bed.  The endless library is still there, always open.  Will you join me?


P.S.  I’m a little late for the post a week challenge, but I’ll keep it as best I can from here on out, seeing as my reading goal coincides.