Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Arthur Miller, Noel Perrin, and Mrs. Wilder

My favorite children's book was given to Quinn before he was born. It begins like this: "God knows all my secrets, He sees into my heart." Each rhyming line has a scripture verse that it was drawn from written at the bottom.

My favorite line is, "He's just around the corner, He's up above my head. I'm not afraid of monsters, God's underneath my bed."

It's no literary classic. I just like it.

Books were never really a big part of my life. I grew up on a steady diet of TV and textbooks from school. Without God's word interfering with my path I would no doubt be a full-fledged blubbering liberal idiot by now. My gosh, looking back, the number of books I had to read for school from the first to the twelfth grade was ridiculously low, and I was in what they called "Honors" classes. If I had to venture a guess, though, I would generously put the number at no more than thirty. Quinn just put down the twelve volume Living Forest series by Sam Campbell in four days flat. I have to force him to put his book down so that we can eat and do our schoolwork.

About three or four years ago I purposed to grow a library for the kids. In my last blog, I referred to a quote from C.S. Lewis, who was one of the catalysts for such a desire. He is one person whose writings and perspective I admire a great deal (a gross understatement). Through a complexity of thought venues he draws out of you a stronger mind and spirit, better sharpened and more humbled in praise for our Creator, at the same time.

While cleaning up last Friday I found one of his books and the quote. It is so good, I wanted to share it with you in its entirety:

I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kind reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.

I, very soon after the desire for a library bloomed, found that the local public library held an annual sale where they removed from the shelves old books, to make room for the new books that were coming in. They were 25 cents each, and on the last day they dropped them to 10 cents each. I got a great start that weekend. I pulled everything I saw of value and left all of the useless mind mush behind. You would be amazed at what they removed- classics, great history books, etc.. I am not saying they didn't replace them with newer prints of classics- but a quick walk through the library wouldn't give you the impression that they had at all.

I say all of that to say this: I think God is so involved with the details of our lives that he has been placing books for us. Maybe he doesn't do this for you- you are a different person than I am and he may do totally different things for you.... but of this thing he has been doing for me I am starting to become quite convinced.

One of the books I happened to pick up at the library sale was a book by Arthur Miller called In the Country. It is his writing about moving, you guessed it, to the country. I remembered from high school that he wrote Death of a Saleman- but I never read that book (though SWEET MERCY based on my adult life experiences I want to if the title lends any hint to the content; but I digress). What struck me about it was his observation, as an 'educated' person purposefully going back to a rural area, that the remnant of people who hadn't left for one reason or another yet were literally embarrassed about their way of life. The "modern, industrialized world" had led them to believe that farming and rural living was nothing short of a backwards bygone way of life to be ashamed of....sad.

My sister Charlotte later told me, when we were discussing this, that Dad felt that way. She said that he was always happiest farming...until buddies would come around and talk about their great paying industry jobs; then he would get unsettled and dissatisfied... feeling like he needed to go into that world to "get more." Dad had an eighth grade education but could fix anything with a motor and knew quite a bit about farming; and many other practical things for that matter. He was a smart man who worked very hard and used his hands for a living as well as his mind. The notion that the employment of the one is best independent of the other is a notion that is rooted in utter stupidity.

The other book I happened to toss on my pile was a book by someone I had never heard of before. His name was Noel Perrin and the book was Last Person Rural. If my gut had teeth in it like a bike chain, the stuff in this book was a set of gears that laid perfectly against it and moved me along on the path toward this life. Mr. Perrin was a Dartmouth professor who spent all of his other time on his farm in Vermont, and he loved every inch of it... all of the ways that it moved with the seasons and all of the people engaged in the same thing that he met. I loved reading about his days, his ponderings, his experiences, his work, his integrity, and his disdain for some of the things that he saw from the culture, from the caldron of marketing, and from the throne of 'progress.' I can't even tell you how much I liked this book... for the sentimental things it conjured up from my childhood, to the things that are innately a part of the way I think, to the simple enjoyment of reading how someone else believes that stillness is an event more worthy of attendance than most anything else. I just stumbled across it again and have been meandering through some of the pages. It has the absolute best book review on the back of the cover, by the way, that I've ever read. Roy Blount Jr., from the New York Times Book Review wrote, "This is a dangerous book. It almost made me decide to go ahead and get pigs." I remembered loving that quote the first time I read it; and now that I am so close to getting pigs, I love it even more.

For my third and final book of evidence, I submit this...about a month or so ago I stopped at a yard sale, and picked up some books. I saw a book called Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Now, despite the huge fan base for her Little House on the Prairie books, I have never really had a desire to read them because, quite frankly, the television show was so disgustingly sappy. If there is anything I can't stand is sap- you know those shows where they pre-craft some overly sentimental situation where everyone is blubbering? It makes me sick. BUT! Given the title of this book, I picked it up. It is about her husband, Almanzo, when he is a ten year old boy (Quinn is ten) and what all of his activities and experiences are like on the farm. My gosh, she explains so many things in depth that we are going to be doing over the next year that it's practically a reference book! I love it and Quinn loves it. The timing for him and for us at this season in our life is perfect. I already read the ending and I welled up with tears, I admit. Not because of anything sappy... but because, well, you should read it.

I guess God knows all my secrets, and He does see into in my heart; so He sends me books that resonate in it too.

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