Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best of 2011

One of the many items [old and new] enjoyed and recommended by Burbank Public Library staff during 2011 for your consideration:

Weeding books in the 800 Dewey classification from our bookshelves is a very difficult process. Literary masterpieces of antiquity and Renaissance periods by Maupassant and Goethe went uncirculated for years; German and French translation copies had not been touched by patrons since 1999 when the library’s catalog was automated.

Marjorie Garber’s 2011 The Use and Abuse of Literature is a timely publication, in this age of the decline of the appreciation of literature. This insightful book certainly will not boost the number of college applications to study English Literature next September, but it definitely explains what makes some literary works timeless and some not. The word “Literature" in “reviews of literature on gender discrimination” is not the same as the selected literature readings from English 101 at any college/university. But why? What could be the reason generations of high school students in our country are required to read Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet? Why did Charles Gounod transport it to the operatic stage and Sergei Prokofiev to ballet?

Garber raises more questions than she gives answers in her book, and that is a great idea. Unlike geometry and algebra, which answer mathematical calculations, literature does not give direct answers or draw conclusions. Instead, it presents situations, opens minds, and asks for interpretation. We look at Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and wonder what is behind that mysterious grin; we perform the same mental process while reading The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.

Garber’s last paragraph wraps up her entire thesis marvelously: “In which nothing is concluded,” she wrote. When I reach the last page of a book, if it still asks for why, how, who, and when, then I know it is a good read. It is a good piece of literature.

Reviewed by Por

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