Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Reading old books...

Robert Lewis Stevenson's (it is a real pity that more people don't read old books) "Across the Plains" is an engaging commentary on his trip across American in 1879 or so. The many people and places are fascinating, and the droll wit apparent in every page is a surprise and a relief. He was not impressed with the grandeur of the plains, and found his trip across Nebraska and Utah and surrounds to be "that homely and unkindly world", a phrase he used to describe Wyoming.

There are several insights which resonate more with today's attitudes than those of his time. He expounds at some length on the plight of the Indian and the Chinese and the clumsy ruffians who dare to think they are better than these other races. Apparently he was not the typical result of an English upper class upbringing. He was a Scot, and maybe the relationship the Scots "enjoyed" with England all those centuries had made him more of an egalitarian thinker.

What you get out of old books is a picture of the society in which they were written. The general milieu of each work of literature is the "schema" prevalent in the era of its creation. No author can be free of the culture which surround him, even though he can try. In this trying is even more a picture of what formed the era in which he lived. Reading history may be a revised picture of an era, while its fiction may give a much more insightful reading, and in most cases a lot more fun! Oh, I am reading it in PalmReader eBook, and it was free! Another good reason to read old books.

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