How Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, and I Are Alike

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August 14, 2019 by libroshombre

LIBRARIAN COLUMN

Contact Greg Hill 479-4344                                                   July 18, 2019

Robert Louis Stevenson claimed that, “To forget oneself is to be happy,” but it’s nice knowing at least five things can be done to forestall Alzheimer’s by 60%, as outlined in a recent NYTimes.com article by Hannah Natanson. These are eating healthy, regular exercise, not smoking, low alcohol consumption, and, not least, “engagement in cognitive stimulation activities.” The reasons why readers postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s is outlined in Thomas Oppon’s online article, “The Reading Brain: Why Your Brain Needs You to Read Every Day.”

First, reading “enhances fluid reasoning,” the “ability to solve problems, understand things, and detect meaningful patterns.” Reading also “makes you emotionally intelligent,” or empathetic, because reading “taps into a process known as grounded cognition.” Oppon quotes neuroscientist Gregory Berns saying, “reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist … we knew that good stories can put you into someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.” Reading also improves concentration and attention spans, it boosts being able to deduce cause and effect, and it’s relaxing.

This helps rationalize the well-fed bookpiles –note the plural – near my reading chair. One, my summer reading stack, includes “Courtesan’s and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens,” by James Davidson, the “Happiness” edition of Lapham’s Quarterly, Mayada Anjari’s “The Bread and Salt Between Us: Recipes and Stories from a Syrian Refugee’s Kitchen,” “Chaucer’s People: Everyday Lives in Medieval England” by Liza Picard, and the nature essays in the 1971 Godine oversized edition of Walt Whitman’s “Specimen Days,” with its copious photos, excellent biographical information, and richly textured pages, makes marvelous summertime perusing. Regular infusions of light fiction from Rex Stout and P.G. Wodehouse lighten the fare.

Two new additions were added last week from ForgetMeNot Books, part of the excellent Literacy Council of Alaska offices on Gaffney. “J. Edgar Hoover: A Graphic Novel” by Rick Geary, a noted artist of true Victorian crime stories, whom some might recall from his National Lampoon days, and Tsai Chih Chung’s graphic novel version of “Zhuangzi,” a Chinese philosophy book of short, instructive tales along the lines of Aesop, written by Zhuangzi around 400 BCE. His actual name was Zuang Zhou, but “-zi,” “ze,” and “tzu” were honorifics appended to great teachers’ names, like Lao Tzu, author and the “Tao Te Ching” and Zhaungzi’s primary influencer.

Zhuangzi lived during China’s tumultuous Warring States Period, where twenty-some-odd small kingdoms fought for domination. The slaughter was terrific, and “as a way out,” Tsai wrote, “Zhuangzi shifted his line of sight from the earthly world to the limitlessness of time and space.” For example, “You shouldn’t always perceive yourself in comparison with others,” as in, I’m tiny compared to that towering white spruce out back, but a giant to that prowling carpenter ant.

Possessing many books enabled complacent reading of Jennifer Howard’s WashingtonPost.com article, “Books Have Become the New ‘It’ Fashion Accessory.” “What’s so bad about accessorizing with books? It’s proof that in the iPhone age, the codex retains a cachet” Howard wrote after noting that last spring “fashion mavens declared that good books and good looks go together.” She cited Marilyn Monroe as proof that “bombshells read books, too. Monroe’s personal library, auctioned by Christies in 1999, featured more than 400 titles, ‘the books of a well-read and inquiring mind,’ according to the auction catalog” and “many of the books have pencil marks and annotations in them.”

Marilyn would certainly have agreed with Book World critic Ron Charles, author of a NYTimes.com article, “Keep Your Tidy, Spark-Joy Hands Off My Book Piles, Marie Kondo.” Author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and a Netflix TV show, Kondo says to “take every single book in your hands and see if it sparks joy,” but “make sure you don’t start reading it” because “reading clouds your judgment.” Come on, readers know that Book A might not appeal today like Book B, but very well might surpass it tomorrow, depending on the reader’s mood.

I aspire to Winston Churchill’s method of regularly perusing all your books, open them at random, read a paragraph or two, and only then decide if you still want to be friends.

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