The marriage bed of Odysseus and Penelope gives us one of the most powerful images in Homer’s Odyssey. Carved from a living olive tree still rooted in the ground, it symbolizes the centrality of marriage to the health and preservation of a good society. Odysseus’s struggle to return to this bed and his slaughter of the usurpers who would take his place there form a satisfying climax to one of history’s greatest stories.
A framed poster of the cover art from Patricia MacLachlan’s All the Places to Love hangs on a wall in my house, and there is a signed copy of the story on my desk. It is one of my favorites. We live on a hill in a rural area just like the family in the story, and I love my home place just like they do.
Bible scholars and Sunday School teachers routinely divide Paul’s Epistle to the Romans into two distinct sections: the first 11 chapters, where the apostle explains the gospel in theological terms, and chapters 12 through 16, where he discusses their moral and ethical implications.
The dividing line between these two sections is verse 12:1, which reads, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (KJV)
When I get to the end of one of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, I want to jump out of my chair and cheer like I would for a Seattle Seahawks touchdown. I don’t usually do it, but the impulse is the same–the resolution at the end of these pieces is something like victory.
If you enjoy classical music, you probably already know what I am talking about. If you are not a fan of the genre, I will bet these masterpieces can make you cheer anyway.
In 1939, Marjorie Rawlings helped a whole nation of readers imagine that they were young country boys just coming of age. Her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Yearling told the story of Jody Baxter, whose family ekes out a living in the central Florida scrubland of the late 19th century. Jody’s loss of innocence and search for friendship gave America a glimpse of its own struggle to survive the Great Depression and find fellowship in the midst of suffering. It resonates today with the same power, regardless of our country’s changing circumstances.
In his 1947 book Miracles, C.S. Lewis tells a story about two men who both think that a certain dog is dangerous. The first man holds this opinion because he has often seen it muzzled and has noticed that the mailman avoids that house. The second man fears the dog because it has a black coat, and he was once bitten by a black dog in childhood.
The best literature teachers rely on classic books, but how can you tell a classic from a non-classic? One popular answer to this question is that you have to wait because it takes time to identify one. You must wait and see which books manage to transcend the concerns of their own time and place and speak to the hearts of people from other times and places; which books, in other words, address universal themes in universally compelling ways.
Anne Ridler's “Christmas and the Common Birth" is one of the most thought provoking poems I’ve ever read at Christmas time, and worth quoting in full:
The Center For Lit crew recently welcomed YA author Gary Schmidt to an episode of our BiblioFiles podcast. Mr. Schmidt is the author of several excellent stories for young readers, including award-winners Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, The Wednesday Wars, and Okay for Now.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Mr. Schmidt offered some compelling thoughts on reading and literature, including a defense of the arts that kept me thinking for days after we recorded the conversation:
At a crucial moment in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, protagonist Brutus bemoans the “spirit of the age,” a disposition toward tyranny that allows Caesar to assume the power of a king over Rome’s erstwhile republic. Brutus and his friends conspire to defeat this insidious evil by murdering Caesar and restoring popular government to Rome.