March 26, 2005

Literary Dinners

"I prefer bread and water with books to the best of eating without them."
- Stephen Fuller Austin, written in his journal in 1834 while he was in prison

When I was a little girl, my mother and I would frequently read at the dinner table when my father went out of town. I remember eating fruit plates (plums, nectarines, cheese and summer sausage) while perusing the pages of a Susan Cooper novel. I don't remember what my mother read; more recent memories of her intrude and I imagine her reading Anita Shreve or Maeve Binchy, though I know that this wasn't the case in the 1980's.

As a college student, I waited tables on Beale Street. We had a semi-regular customer who would come in alone and read during his meal. The waitresses all joked about him; he seemed so strange to us. Now, ten years later, I have discovered that I frequently prefer to read while I eat.

Tonight I turned down dinner plans in order to eat lasagna while I reread Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. Earlier, thumbing through Nafisi's memoirs, I was reminded of the solitary patron of that Beale Street establishment. In retrospect, I realize that he probably knew that we were laughing at him. I think that he was enjoying his book so deeply that he didn't care. Strangely, I'm glad that I've reached that point, too.

Mr. Austin's quote, however, does not just refer to gustatory pleasures. He is taking the seemingly astonishing position that he would rather remain incarcerated with his books than go free without them. This quote is a different perspective on the same basic concept addressed by Ms. Nafisi: the nature of freedom and the role of literature in the absence of liberty. Ms. Nafisi was similarly "incarcerated": she lived in Tehran throughout the first decade of the Iranian Revolution. In the end, Mr. Austin and Ms. Nafisi, though separated by almost two centuries, come to the same conclusion: intellectual freedom and physical freedom do not always go hand-in-hand. Of the two, they agree, intellectual freedom is much more difficult to suppress. In the face of adversity, literature can provide the single most crucial survival tool. It serves as "the thing with feathers that perches in the soul." Literature provides, in a word, hope.

Here's to singing the tune without the words, Austin. Pour me another glass of water.

7 Comments:

Blogger Ghost of Goldwater shared an opinion...

You're not updating, which means the terrorists are winning! Aaaaaaarrrrrrrgh!

*running around in circles like a headless chicken*

6:11 am  
Anonymous Roberta shared an opinion...

One of my early school memories (2nd grade) was coming to school early and sitting at my desk reading. I was so into it. While I sat absorbed, the whole class had arrived and when I looked up, they were all standing silently with their hands to their hearts waiting for me. I remember feeling embarrased and I always felt a little resentful towards that teacher who couldn't appreciate a childs love of a good book.

12:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous shared an opinion...

"Literature provides, in a word, hope."

In a word -- thanks.

You consistently provide true resonance, seasoned with a rare erudition, to dine upon. The feast is both fascinating and fabulous. Looking forward to more posts when you find the time.

Anna aka cheerio aka potsiesgirl (hee!)

2:15 pm  
Blogger Amy shared an opinion...

I could not agree more. Literature can provide an inner freedom that is as valuable as physical freedom. It's survival, like you say. What's the point of living as a free citizen if you're bound by intellectual or emotional chains?

9:58 am  
Blogger Knitting Painter Woman shared an opinion...

I don't remember how I got to your page, either. I began enjoying couples therapy after taking John Gottman's 3 day workshop. (Would like to do his 7 day one in Seattle, but have found other ways to get CEU's/spend money!). I started bloggins because of www.yarnharlot.ca/blog, a Canadian knitter who just published her book of "meditations" and was on tour IN MEMPHIS. you might enjoy reading her take on "The South." Austin wold be a better place than most in Texas for non-conformists... I look forward to reading more about comfort poetry, etc. (Have you considered Poetic Therapy? or Kay Adams' Journal Workshops? ttfn.

11:21 pm  
Blogger Ghost of Goldwater shared an opinion...

Ok, I's gone and got me one o' dem free sitemeter thingies... so c'mon and VISIT my site, ya bastards! VISIT ME! *shaking fist*

12:24 pm  
Blogger parcequilfaut shared an opinion...

MWN, I am a similar "character" to my neighborhood servers because, depending on my work schedule, I more often take myself to dinner than dine with a companion. So I always, always have a book with me in any restaurant situation. But they've come to love it because a.) I am too busy reading to be a huge bitch and b.) I am too busy reading to be a huge bitch.

It's normal to read at table amongst my associates. If CDHSarah and I are both really, really into whatever we're reading, we'll go out to eat...and read at the table. Probably bad manners but it's all en famille...

12:59 pm  

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