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Author Topic: Books and Experience  (Read 5896 times)

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Offline Sigcutio

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Books and Experience
« on: October 15, 2011, 04:31:47 AM »
Just thought I'd bring some discussion to this thread as it is very deserving of more activity! A question came up in my class today that I found very interesting and thought it would be great to discuss.


Do you think that books can provide an experience similar to actually experiencing something in real-life? Is it also possible that one can truly learn from a character's experiences in a book and put them to use in one's life?


Personally I would have to say yes to both of these questions. One of my favorite books is Eric Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. It is an terrifying, fictional account of World War I told through the perspective of a young soldier based on Remarque's actual experience on the battle field. Despite being a work of fiction, it was told so well that it changed my perception of war. I had always been told that war was a terrible thing and dangerous, but after reading this book I felt as though I had seen with my own eyes why this was true.


As to the second question, I always feel like I incorporate some sort of lesson after finishing a book. I recently finished the book Into the Wild which is a sort of biography of the young man Christopher McCandless who leaves his well-established life for something more adventurous, which eventually leads him to travel to Alaska alone. Tragically he died, but instead of just relating this man's story to the reader, the author, Jon Krakauer, tries to also find some sort of meaning to what McCandless attempted and what he learned.  I cannot say what exactly Krakauer finds as it would spoil the book, but I will say that I will never forget it. What I gained from reading this book is an experience that has taken root in my life and I hope to continue to nurture it.


So that's just what I thought from these questions, but what do you think?
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Offline CormacCoyotecraft

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2011, 04:27:26 AM »
I definitely agree with you. One of the reasons books are so wonderful is that its one human sharing his/her experience with everyone else, so that they may learn from it, sympathize with it or simply enjoy it.


Something that's especially interesting is when an author examines multiple sides of a single issue. For example, in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, he examines both sides of that urge to go into the world and find a special something, like a purpose in life, or a way of living that fits allows one to find and explore one's hopes, desires, etc..
In All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy portrays this urge beautifully. He shows in John Grady Cole's journey how all the pain and sorrow and triumph of the journey to satisfy this urge becomes a beautiful thing.
However, in The Crossing he explores the more realistic, and sorrowful, side of this journey. The main character in this book loses everything in this quest, including the very thing he sought. These truths meet in Cities of the Plain.


The theme of this trilogy is very human, and nearly everyone has experienced something like it at some point. I remember how in high school I would stand on my porch watching the sun set behind the foothills, and feel that same urge John Grady Cole felt. But, as I made my way through high school and lost two of my closest friends and learned how cruel and Evil the world can be, I learned the veracity of The Crossing's message. And, by reading The Border Trilogy, I learned to avoid some of the pitfalls the characters experienced in those stories.


One of the most interesting and wonderful things about literature is it shows how, no matter what time, culture or country, humans share many of the same experiences, emotions, etc. And by portraying these, we can teach and help others in other countries, cultures and in the future.

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2011, 07:11:04 AM »

Very well said Cormac! I agree with you that literary experiences are universal and that there is so much to learn from different countries, nations, and people. It certainly is amazing how literature is able to do this.


By the way, I had not ever really heard of the Border Trilogy, but it sounds like a really interesting series. I will have to look into it! Thank you for sharing!  :)
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Offline CormacCoyotecraft

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2011, 05:22:27 AM »
No problem. Oh, and if you're looking for a book that has an interesting perspective on society's outcasts, I recommend McCarthy's Child of God.


Having good taste in literature yourself, do you have any books to recommend?

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2011, 04:15:52 AM »
On my mind right now I can recall Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five was a really interesting work.  It is an anti-war novel that loosely reflects the author's experience in World War II and what he witnessed as a prisoner during the fire bombing of Dresden. The whole work centers on these experiences, but how it is told is completely different from anything I have ever read. In fact, the work is told in a non-linear timeline that is made all the more interesting in that it is actually a work of science fiction and not historical fiction as I had initially expected. If you have not read it I highly recommend it just because it is very unique.


Hope this post doesn't stray too far off topic  XD
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Offline L. Jay Echoes

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2018, 07:26:35 PM »
I'm sure I'll come up with more examples later, but one real-life/literary parallel experience I had was found in Ted Hughes's "The Rain Horse." The story is about a guy running away from a horse. A few weeks ago I met a goose that I swear wanted to kill me. I mean, the danger isn't necessarily comparable, but I did feel the same level of fear reading the story as I did watching the goose charge me.

Oh, Jennifer Egan's story starts with a quip about how nostalgic excursions end in disappointment, giving the example of going into a house you used to live in. I have never returned to a house that I used to live in, but I have dreams about breaking into the last house I lived in before I moved across states.
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Offline L. Jay Echoes

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2018, 04:15:47 PM »
Oh, anybody ever read M.R. James's "Oh Whistle and I'll come to you, My Lad?"

There's a scene wherein the author is lying awake in bed, and he hears some nearby rustling and takes comfort in the fact that someone else is having as much trouble sleeping as he is. There's something about being the only person awake in a house that used to give me a frightful sense of being left alone in an alternate dimension.
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Offline L. Jay Echoes

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2019, 10:28:06 PM »
A short story that really hit home with me is Jennifer Egan's "The Gold Cure," from her book A Visit From the Goon Squad.

It follows the story of a father, who is also the manager of a band. He deals with traumatic or embarassing memories by writing them down on a sheet of paper. He writes them all in shorthand. He's also trying to regain his arousal with the help of gold dust, but whenever it starts to work, a new traumatic memory resurfaces.

I read this story six years ago. It was a time when awful memories just wouldn't leave me alone. In fact, it has taken this long to actually rob these memories of their power over me, through counseling, meditation, medication, and adjustments in the way I interact with other people.

The story (spoiler alert) ends when his secratary looks at the paper, and mistakes them for song titles. Now, I can't say for sure whether this story played a part in my (ongoing) recovery, but of all the characters I've read, this one mirrored my personal problems (at least the ones I was facing at the time) the most.
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Offline L. Jay Echoes

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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #8 on: October 26, 2019, 12:33:42 AM »
Last night, I read Guy de Maupassant's "Looking Back." In it, a bishop tells a governess his coming of age story. He was a coward throughout his childhood until he adopted a stray dog. The dog was trampled one day, and he fell into a month-long depression that only ended when his dad scolded him. "How are you going to weather an actual tragedy if you can't recover from the death of a mere animal?"

Now, even though the bishop got a month-long morning period, I still think that this is in some regard lousy parenting. However, the remainder of the story talks about the change in direction his life changed. After that confrontation, he faced life fully aware that things could turn out for the worse. That has been my approach as of late. Anytime I take on something new, particularly in the realm of human interaction, I bear in mind, "This person might not respond the way I expect them to."

As I'm typing this out, I am watching Netflix's "Watership Down." If you have ever read the book, you'll come across a scene with some rabbits who espouse this very philosophy, and it's treated like a bad thing. That is because it is used to discredit the possibility of survival.

This is a paradox that, if it has a name, somebody please tell me: Work and plan for the best results, but bear in mind what is outside of your control. It may sound hackneyed, but I do get the sense that this is a lost principle. I'll cover "Watership Down" in another entry. Suffice it to say that I've been much better off emotionally approaching things with a catastrophe as a possible (if unlikely) outcome.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2020, 02:10:50 PM by L. Jay Echoes »
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Re: Books and Experience
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2020, 02:33:39 PM »
I recently read the first Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlet. In it, Sherlock introduces himself to Watson with a disclaimer about what living with him is going to be like. While this may be the usual thing to do with prospective roommates, I have harbored thoughts of warning people what a daily association with me is going to be like, although given that I've never looked for a roommate or been out on a date, there is no real cause to go through with it.

Also, I can't remember the name of it, but in one of the stories from Best American Short Stories, either the 2015 or 2016 edition, there is a story about a dad who's beside himself because of his young son's bluntness. The dad has a high need for affection, and the son doesn't like to be tucked in. At one point, he tells the dad, "Look, I don't love you." As harsh as that sounds, what I think the kid is actually saying is that he does not experience affection the same way, or that he needs to protect his personal space. This spoke so much to my upbringing and a few recent incidents.

Also, there's a point made in Cloud and Townsend's self-help book __Boundaries__, that, in raising children, penalties ought to match the severity of the transgression. For context, the authors are mental health specialists, and the book is about knowing what lies inside and outside the bounds of your own responsibilities, and this is from the chapter on responsibility towards children. A client informed one of the authors that spanks were the only disciplinary methods his parents ever used, so he chose to "get a lot more done" by focusing on bigger transgressions.

The way this applies to my own experience is that, whenever I had a problem with something my parents, it didn't matter how polite or tactful I was, simply insinuating that they'd done something less than perfect absolutely set them off. Eventually, I thought, "Okay, no matter how polite I am, they're just going to get upset for the mere mention of it." So I decided I'd just be straight with them. There has been some restored balance since this incident 5 years ago, but I definitely had to move out of this mindset of "good manners yields good results."
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