November 10, 2013
In the old cartoons when the villain’s actions had been unmasked, his crony in crime would be shown reporting the dangerous state of affairs by hissing frantically in the villain’s ear, “All is discovered! Flee at once!!”
The villain and his crony would then be pictured running wildly toward the door outside of which (in the next frame) the police would be shown already standing on the doorstep preparing to ring the bell.
I would have titled today’s blog “Flee at once!” had I thought any of you readers would remember those old cartoons and smile at the allusion. In reality I have not been charged with either a misdemeanor or felony, and, thankfully, have no need to flee. Nevertheless (tongue in cheek), “All has been discovered.”
A previously private component of my reading life has been exposed. (Smiles.)
Since the existence of these books has become public knowledge, rather than fleeing I have made today’s blog the beginning of “full disclosure.”
The whole matter came to light—or at least, came to blog—by way of the good deed of a friend who last summer helped clean the garage. This friend is a good friend indeed—she not only helps with the garage (and many other chores) she also reads my blog.
After last week’s post, remembering her summer experience, she said to me, “I read what you said this week about ‘intellectually empty calories.’ What I want to know is: what about all those books in the garage? Is next week’s blog going to talk about them?”
Yes—with pleasure. In doing so I hope both to clarify a point I think is important, and acknowledge (happily) a reader who holds me accountable in life for what I say in print.
The shelves in the garage to which my friend referred hold a large collection of paperbacks, many of which are yellow with age, coffee spotted, and have covers coming unglued. These are murder mysteries and spy novels which show evidence of long ownership and continuing use.
My friend knew this from her experience of the rather odd behavior of a number of these books. Frequently one of these books (for example, perhaps Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers) that had been restored to the garage last summer would mysteriously appear again in my upstairs study, or (tricky business) appear in the garage but found lying carelessly on the ledge, no longer occupying its alphabetically proper place on the shelves.
There is no evidence that Annie has taken up reading in her leisure time, so this activity clearly points suspicion toward Gay Hubbard. It appears that Hubbard has purchased and read these books, and continues to do so. Can it be that Hubbard’s fuss about intellectually empty calories is a case of do what I say, not what I do?
Suppose, in the best tradition of fictionalized law, order and fantasized court procedures, you, my readers, are selected to hear the following charge against me.
The charge: Blog readers, distinguished people of the literary jury, the prosecution will show that the collection of used spy stories and detective novels housed in open shelves in the defendant’s garage provide evidence that the defendant regularly and secretly consumes large amounts of intellectually empty calories while hypocritically adopting the blog pose of weekly scold of the culture at large.
In movies, at this point, serving as my own lawyer, I would say something like, “Your honor, the defendant grants that the evidence in display was purchased by the defendant and is at this time knowingly in her possession, and is housed openly on her garage shelves. The defense will show however that this material serves as legitimate tools appropriate to the disciplined life of the mind.”
The issue more seriously rephrased becomes: what provides “good” intellectual nutrition? What makes a book worth reading? For those of us who become conscientious about intellectual discipleship, by what criteria do we learn to judge the books we read, the films we watch, and the music to which we listen? In this information-flooded era the question is neither trivial nor easy to answer. It merits serious thinking time.
However, I am thinking of the challenge this morning with a smile. What fun in trying to explain seriously the value I find in Lord Peter Wimsey, Travis McGee, Nero and Archie, and Smiley (John LeCarre’s hero in his Cold War spy series)? And think of the fun in trying to describe the ways in which Brother Caudfel has enriched my thinking about the end stages of life?
What have you read lately that has engaged you deeply but does not necessarily meet the criteria of christianly politically-correct thought?
See you at court next week.
P.S. If you find a used copy of Tears of the Giraffe please snag it for me. I loaned and lost my copy of this report of the activities of Mma Ramotswe, Founder of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Gaborone, Botswana (Alexander McCall Smith).