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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Intelligence of our country

I just read the results of a Harris Poll wherein they asked folks to name their favorite book. The survey was called "10 books to read before you die". I must say I was appalled (not really surprised - but appalled) at the results. Below are the "winners":

1. Bible (anyone surprised at that?)
2. Gone with the Wind (as this is one of my personal favorites, I would have to leave it in)
3. Lord of the Rings (a good read, a great movie but seriously, would you have to read this before you died?)
4. The Harry Potter series (I AM SICK TO DEATH OF THIS! Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings series are fun reads. They are not deep novels by any stretch of the imagination they are, in my estimation, akin to gussied up dime store novels)
5. The Stand by Stephen King (again, why would you have to read this before you died?)
6. The Da Vinci Code (now this one makes a person think a bit so I'm not going to scream about it but I will fuss about it. It certainly is NOT a classic)
7. To Kill a Mockingbird (okay. Now we're getting somewhere. We're getting closer to actual reading that requires a touch of thought on the readers part).
8. Angels and Demons (Dear Lord! And I thought The Harry Potter series was as fluff as we were going to get)
9. Atlas Shrugged (whatever)
10. Catcher in the Rye (I'd leave this in).

Where is the Iliad and the Odyssey? Where is QBVII? Where is "Tender is the Night"? Or perhaps, "War and Peace"? "Johnny Got his Gun"? "Enemies"? "Of Mice and Men"? "A Tree grows in Brooklyn" or even "Barfly" by Charles Bukowski. Where are the books that MAKE A PERSON THINK and that mold a young person's character and morals? (not religious morals but human morals - there is a vast difference between the two.) Where are the books with words over 2 syllables? What kind of people are we raising in this country??

Now, what would be my top 10? Hard to narrow it down. Why? Because I have actually read more than 10 books.

I worry about our future as a country when someone is asked to name a book that everyone should read before they die and the results are filled with fluff. To me the question begs me to pick a book that when read makes the reader ponder the questions raised in the book.

Let's take QBVII as an example. Leon Uris, in his usual fashion, gives us a character that is both Angelic and Demonic. He makes no judgment on this character and leaves it up to the reader to decide for themselves if the character is pure evil masquerading as an Angel or vice versa. Whenever I even think of this book, I am transported right back to the first time I read it. Every time I read it, I find even more quandaries to ponder.

The same is true of "The Lamb's War". For those of you who have never read this book, it is about an attractive Jewish woman in a concentration camp who is given a choice. She can either become the concubine for a Nazi officer who will give her suitable shelter, clothing, food and medical treatment OR she can work in the fields with the other starved, disease ridden and nearly naked prisoners with her ultimate reward being the gas chamber. She opts to live with the Officer. He treats her well but the other prisoners do not. It is a story that on the surface is easy to criticize. "Oh, I would never do that" or "I would refuse and instead would take my place with my fellow Jews and go to my death with my head held high". That kind of thing. She doesn't' take her decision lightly at all and she tries to help the other prisoners out as best she can but I'm sure you can imagine the consequences of her decision and the events she has to endure because of it. Even worse were the consequences of her decision that she had to endure AFTER the war was over. As the old saying goes, "there is no easy ride in this life".

However, once I really thought about it and really tried to transport myself into her situation, it became all the more clear to me that I would have jumped on the offer. Hell, yeah I would. And I would wager a bet that pretty much anyone else would IF they were honest with themselves.

Of course, I also understand the other prisoners point of view which is partially what makes this book so compelling. All sides of any situation are clearly presented. Of course, if I am standing on one side of a barbed wire fence in the dead of winter wearing only a thin Cotton dress with no shoes and no food, sick with no medicine, worked and starved nearly to death, I would harbor a bit of hatred towards her too. Human nature to feel that way. I honestly think God would want us to look at her and be thankful that at least she is not suffering but I know that I wouldn't look at it that way. I would view her as worse than foul.

See? Even writing the title of the book brings back the moral dilemma's contained in the book. These are the types of books that we need to have our children read. These are the types of books that must be read in order to prevent anything of this sort from ever happening again.

What about books by Homer? Or (I'm gagging now) plays by Shakespeare (obviously not one of my favorites). Or even "I'm not Rappaport" by Herb Gardner. (An easy read about an old man who, because he views his life as having been boring and uneventful, likes to pretend to be someone else (a retired spy) and the people in his world who want to change him and make him "normal"). Or even "Tell me you love me Junie Moon"? Another light read about not judging others because they are different than you or because their family unit is different than yours.

We cannot and must not allow our children to bypass the books that give them the opportunity to think about what they would do in those situations. How they would feel in those situations. We must give our children books to read that once they are finished we can sit on the couch and discuss it with them. That's the beauty and wonderment of books. They allow you to contemplate yourself in an entirely new place and time with new situations that need to be addressed and new decisions that are oftentimes life and death that need to be made and they help our children to learn to make those decisions or at a minimum to think about the consequences of these situations. Harry Potter does not do that.

Harry Potter, in my opinion, is for 4 types of people. 1. hate to read 2. have a low reading ability, 3. want a simple read due to time constraints or 4. just want to get away from the stresses of their lives without having to give it much, if any, thought. I understand giving one of these books to your child just to get them interested in reading but then slip in a decent book for them. However, they are most certainly not a must read before you die type of book.

From the time my children were born until I guess they were 13 or so, I read to them every night. EVERY night. We turned off the TV, we got into our jammies and they would curl up on the bed while I read to them for an hour. Those were the absolute best hours of my life.

Of course, I read them age appropriate books when they were very small but as they (and their intelligence) grew more complex so did the books. We were reading "Resurrection" (Tolstoy) by the time my youngest was 5. We discussed them, digested them, pondered them. Naturally there were words they weren't familiar with that I would have to explain, but that was the beauty of it all. They were exposed to new situations, times, cultures AND their vocabulary was enormously expanded. To this day, each of my children possess and treasure libraries in their homes that are varied and impressive. I firmly believe that if either of their houses were on fire, they would run to save their books before anything else.

Our nightly reading was wonderful and it saddens me to no end to think that children nowadays are not getting that same time to read books of substance and then discuss their ideas and interpretations with their parents.

We need more readers of substance in our new generations. We need more thinkers of depth in our new generations. We need future leaders who will ponder decisions and consequences closely and thoroughly and who will be able to flash back at some of these characters and their decisions with an educated eye while reaching their judgments. We need future leaders who will be familiar with historical events and the decisions leading up to them as well as, the decisions that ended many of them.

But that's just me.

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