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This evening once again Flash and Entropy are off playing Magic, and having momentary control of the remote, I made a terrible mistake.  Left alone with Kinesis, I managed to get him off to sleep and started browsing our Netflix recommendations all on my own.  How fun, to see a movie without superheroes that doesn’t need to appeal to any of the boys, young or old, in my life.  Period pieces are one of my favorites, so of course, up came Howards End as a recommendation.  Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and a very young Helena Bonham Carter.  How could I go wrong?

I must admit it’s been some years since I read Forster.  I remember enjoying A Room With a View, but my memory might be fuzzy because clearly tonight I waded in over my head.  I understand Foster’s points about universality of experience, humanity, and our need for relationship and understanding, etc, etc, but did the story have to be so damned sad?  

Let’s just say that I have little fondness for what might be called the darker side of fiction. I enjoy light beginnings, perfect endings, and as little unhappy middle as possible.  When I watch a tragic movie I end up brooding and melancholy, as if the characters in the story were people close to me.  In high school I couldn’t finish reading Lord of the Flies, Tess left me weepy and I managed to write a paper on Heart of Darkness even though I skipped any of the darker parts.  I love Shakespeare, but avoid  the tragedies.   Especially that eye bit in Lear.*

Flash, on the other hand, enjoys reading and watching movies about what might be termed the darker side of life.  He claims his life has little drama, so he enjoys some vicariously.   Some people might even think that my lack of true appreciation for tragedy and drama is due to some lack of artistic appreciation, or that as I’ll develop a thicker skin.  Yet I find that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for sad tales in my entertainment fare.  It’s too much like real life. 

I think my colleagues would agree that being a pastor often gives one a close up of the less pleasant side of the human condition.  So many people who are so placid on the outside are from families that are secretly seething with tragedy.   I’m not talking about the many times I’ve witnessed the natural process of death.  I mean the families in which broad smiles mask physical abuse, addiction, sexual violence… even murder.  There are so many situations that are so painful, closer than you’d ever imagine, I can’t seem to find the joy in even a fictional tragedy.  Real ones haunt me.  So help me, I’ll never pump my fist in the air and cheer a bloody death.   It’s the casual cruelty that gets to me every time.

Maybe I’m missing some sort of Schadenfreude gene.  Yet as I write this I look down at the sleeping face of my son and part of me desperately wants to believe that deep down, most of us are basically good, yearning for the true, the just, and the beautiful.  There is too much meanness, too much hate, too much sadness in the world already.  Give me an unbelievable and obvious happy ending any day.  And may we find those endings in real life.

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*This may be some strange biologically inherited aversion to royal occular mutilation, as according to my Mom we are descended  on our Norwegian side from King Magnus the Blind, who was plain old King Magnus until he had his eyes plucked out by his uncle.  Seriously.

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“Quot libros, quam breve tempus.”

We’ve been officially packing for a couple of weeks now, and we are still working on the books.  In fact, we are only about halfway done sorting and packing just the library.

Time for a story:  Years ago in the days B.C. (Before Children), Flash and I moved into a tiny apartment as caretakers of an historic adobe.  We crammed ourselves into the miniscule one bedroom, which of course meant that a significant portion of the bedroom, living room, and kitchen were filled with books.  The previous caretaker dropped by to give us a set of keys.  As he stepped into the living room, he looked around wonderingly and said, “So, who’s the egghead?” 

We both are.  If by egghead he meant “reader”.  After two decades of marriage, the only difference is that we’ve expanded into a much larger house, and acquired Entropy and Kinesis and all of their books as well.

This is the library, halfway packed:

At least, this is one wall of the library.  Then there are the other three walls, and the four shelves in the boys’ room.  And the three in the downstairs hall.  And the schoolroom books–five full bays.  And the books in our bedroom.  Flash only has two, but I have four.  And all of them chock-full of wonderful, beautiful books.  Books that contain stories we love, information we reference, glorious pictures and the wonderful scent of ink on the page.  Heavy, heavy books.   Books that take up space.  Lots and lots of space.

I remember reading Farenheit 451 as a child and trying to figure out what book I would commit to memory in case of post-apocalyptic fascist state takeover.  At the time I was going to be Alice in Wonderland, now I’d probably be a pretty good Pride and Predjudice, but I aspire to be Moby Dick.  If you haven’t read Farenheit 451, now’s your chance to do so. 

Our reservations have been made, and we are indeed going to limit our household goods to 5 storage pods, so most of the books are going to have to go.  In preparation for the move, we’ve ordered iPads for Flash and I, and Kinesis and Entropy will be getting Kindles, particularly for school books.   We spent the day as we have others, picking up armloads of books and trying to decide if they are keepers or going to be sold in our upcoming garage sale. 

The criteria are fairly complex. I’ve had a Kindle for a couple of years in an effort to keep our book purchasing to a minimum, but you can see how that’s worked out.  Even after several moves and prior cullings, we are still inundated with books.  So, if it’s available on Kindle, we’re getting rid of it.  Unless it has really awesome illustrations.  Or is signed.  Or has deep memories associated with it.  Or… OK, no, we’re getting rid of it anyhow.  So we now officially have around 25 boxes of books to keep, and twice that many to jettison.  

Somehow it feels like a sort of betrayal on our part.  Like selling good friends, just because they’ve gotten old and unwieldy.  So many of my childhood memories are tied up with the printed page.  I grew up running from the goblins with Bilbo, being bosom friends with Anne, philosophizing with the Red Queen, solving mysteries with Hercules, sailing the seas of Narnia, and basically consuming stories at an astounding rate.  Now seeing them go is difficult.  Even painful.

Yet I keep telling myself that it is the words I love, not the paper.  The printing press is merely one technology to share information, and though my Kindle may not smell of ink, I can be just as lost in the story.  Circumstances are forcing our transformation, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Having an entire library that I can carry in my purse is pretty awesome.  I’m still not ready to give up my notebooks and fountain pen for Evernote on my iPhone, but who knows… perhaps some day.  Or maybe not.

Just for fun, here’s Flash’s side of the bed. 

Stick around, and one day I’ll post about the 50,000 or so comic books in the garage and how many of the 5 moving pods they will fill.  Sigh.  He really is a great guy.

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