I’m Still a Kid at Heart: Pooh Bear

When I was on my lunch break at work, I was reading Winnie-the-Pooh, the original adventures by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, at my desk and a co-worker came up to me. “What’s that?” he said. “I’m a kid at heart,” I said sheepishly as I pulled out Winnie-the-Pooh.

“No way!” he said. “I love it! You never stop growing up!”

It was my biggest reading compliment of the day. I had read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Gertrude Stein’s Paris France, and now Winnie-the-Pooh after craving something more delightful than modern fiction. I was blessed by all the cute and wonderful sayings I saw in Pooh Bear’s world, and below is one of my favorite quotes which I should make into a poster and put on my bedroom wall:

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

“It’s the same thing,” he said.

Now that I have a Pooh Bear quote to live by, I can wake up and have something to look forward to every day, like a good hearty breakfast (preferably with sausage and a muffin) or a coffee date with my favorite person in the whole wide world. Or I could be thinking “Grand Thoughts to [myself] about Nothing,” as A. A. Milne says about Pooh Bear when Christopher Robin goes off to sleep.

Maybe I should think of Grand Thoughts about Nothing? I suppose they’ll help me get to sleep sooner than I already do. Good Night, or Good Morning readers, and have a Grand Day.

What Makes a Book Classic?

“A classic … is a successful book that has survived the reaction of the next period or generation. Then it’s safe, like a style in architecture or furniture. It’s acquired a picturesque dignity …”

-Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

When I think of my favorite classics, I remember how much joy they brought me. Growing up I read The Velveteen Rabbit and Too Much Noise, and growing older I read The Little House in the Big Woods, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Great Gatsby, A Christmas Carol, Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre … I could keep going.

I know a book is classic when it is intelligent, when it soothes or inspires me, and when it has clear transitions between its characters’ development, plot progression, and moral teachings. There is no plot summary that can satisfy the definition of a classic, but when readers from the next generations remember the most famous lines from a book, the book has survived into longevity:

  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride & Prejudice)
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities)
  • “Call me Ishmael.” (Moby Dick)
  • “You may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden.” (The Tale of Peter Rabbit)

 

That, my friends, is the definition of a classic. I am proud to be one of the readers to enjoy and pass on these tales of wonder.

How to Introduce a Book, and Why I Like Hemingway

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish….

-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

When you introduce a book, you can’t simply give an imagery description of the town, or a bland description of the character’s physique. Sometimes you wait to say who the character is or how the character looks until after you say what the character does.

Here in the introduction of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, I am struck by the short paragraph which tells readers why the old man is the center of this story. Look at the following passage, which is the rest of the introduction, to see what I mean:

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

Although I omitted sections for brevity, I included the most important phrase—“the flag of permanent defeat”—which sets the story’s tone and shows the old man’s perpetual misfortune. My favorite lines in the next few pages involve dialogue between the old man and the boy, when they reminisce about the time they first met and how important the boy is to the man:

“How old was I when you first took me in a boat?” [said the boy].

“Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?”

“I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. …”

“Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?”

“I remember everything from when we first went together.”

The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

“If you were my boy I’d take you out and gamble,” he said. “But you are your father’s and your mother’s and you are in a lucky boat.”

When Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for this novella, he deserved it well. We now know who the old man is by seeing him with our eyes and understanding him with our minds. That is the importance of style when introducing characters.

This Book is Perfect for Mother’s Day

This book has warmed me for so long. It’s Love You Forever, by Roger Knapp.

The tale is simple, being a children’s book. It starts with the babyhood of the main character and goes to his adulthood, while every stage of his life is being sung to by his mother.

The refrain she sings goes like this: “I love you forever, I like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

It sometimes makes me cry if I think the main character, whom the author takes through every stage of his life—toddlerhood, adolescence, and adulthood—is unsympathetic toward his mother, or at least incognizant. But if I slip into this mindset I have to tell myself: It’s not that he doesn’t care about her; it’s that he simply lives a messy or reckless life.

The author takes great care to emphasize that the boy growing up likes messy and loud things: The boy trashes the toilet, chews bubble gum, leaves fingerprints on the counter, listens to hard-core rock music, and all around becomes a walking trash can with his laissez-faire attitude.

I think the main point of this story is that the son reciprocates his mother’s love through osmosis; because she first loved him, he loves her back.

He doesn’t at first reciprocate her love, whether verbally or physically. He is not a bad kid at all; but when she is old and decrepit, he comes to her house, tiptoes up her stairs (as she did to him every night of every year) and sings to her: “I love you forever, I like you for always. As long as I’m living my Mommy you’ll be.”

I sometimes have tears reading these lines. They are so true and so happy. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, mother-figures, and women who’ve been like mothers to those they’ve blessed.

How to Admire God in French

One of my favorite passages from Gertrude Stein’s memoir Paris, France is the excerpt attributed to, I believe, Jean Jacques Rousseau. In this passage, Rousseau explains the greatness he feels in the presence of God, and I love his flow of thought as he describes both the existence of God and the response he, as a human, feels in His light.

Translated from Paris, France:

The Eternal Being is not seen, or heard; it is felt; he speaks neither eyes nor ears, but in the middle we can compete well against his infinite essence, but not the failing to recognize good faith. Unless I see it, the more I love it, I humble myself and said: Being [of] Beings, I am because you are, it is rising to the source than to meditate ever more worthy use of my reason is to annihilate before thee: my rapture of mind, it’s the charm of my weakness to feel overwhelmed by your greatness.

If I take any of this into my life, I would bow before God and say, “‘Being [of] Beings, I am because you are.’ I attribute my being to You.” I love that I am made because of Him. I love that the French are lyrical and flowing in their poetry.

Whenever I think of God, and whenever I hear about Rousseau, I can smile and imagine that God is felt in the words of my friends, family, and pastor. That when I see the kindness of people, I can imagine He is there. Truth is found in more than just words; it is both the action and the words of people that show how God can live.

And I also smile knowing that is found in great French literature.

Shakespeare, the Unromantic Poet

One would think the master of all poetry would have given his dame a greater sense of beauty, but I was shocked to find this piece of literature terribly unsympathetic and realistic. He gives her not just a bad review, but paints her in such a contrast to the ideal woman that she seems more like a pig than a swan.

But the real motivation for Shakespeare’s sonnet is to contradict and poke fun at his contemporary Petrarch, an Italian poet who created seemingly unrealistically beautiful portrayals of women such as his usual common thread, “My woman’s eyes are like the stars.” I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing with these portrayals, but it’s terribly funny to compare these brilliant poets and their ingenious portrayals of women.

Hence read Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” and see whether you agree with his method of flattery:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damask’d, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare    As any she belied with false compare.

Would any man, in his right mind, repeat this devastatingly funny poem to his mistress? I think not.

As I near the wedding of my brother, I think this poem is a friendly kick in the gut to Petrarch, who would always say the sweetest things about his woman in his sonnets.

It would be a painfully humorous and sarcastic joke to repeat this aloud. I believe my brother would do a better job in complimenting his lover than Shakespeare to his.

Still, it is a humorous topic to show to young literary scholars, who should probably never repeat this to their lovers, but only in healthy jest.

Leave it on your shelf, Shakespeare. I know you created many wonderful pieces, and this sonnet in particular is reserved for literary spite than romantic gestures.

Adieu, Shakespeare.