“I was inspired by the marvelous example of Giacometti, the great sculptor. He always said that his dream was to do a bust so small that it could enter a matchbook, but so heavy that no one could lift it. That's what a good book should be.”
― Elie Wiesel
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
In a course on Literature for Adolescents that I took as a graduate student we learnt about the sharp decline in reading for fun once children hit puberty. The required list of novels for the course provided another reason why teenagers were not that interested in reading. Most of the novels that we read had predictable formulas, and demonstrated lack of respect for the intellect of the readers.
According to a recent article in The New Yorker Do Kids Read Seriously Anymore? by David Denby: "Work by the Pew Research Center and other outfits have confirmed the testimony of teachers and parents and the evidence of one’s eyes. Few late teen-agers are reading many books. A recent summary of studies cited by Common Sense Media indicates that American teen-agers are less likely to read “for fun” at seventeen than at thirteen."
But the novel A Trumpet In The Wadi, by the renowned Israeli novelist Sami Michael, which was taken out of the required reading list in Israeli high schools, is nothing like the young adult books that I had to read for my course. It is a thought provoking story that youngsters could really enjoy. But perhaps reading serious novels has become, as David Denby claims, “a chore, like doing the laundry or prepping a meal for a kid brother.”
Obviously our Education Minister is aware of the crucial problem of teenagers who do not read, and proves that he understands the mentality of the young adult. Thus, rather than pleading with kids to read good literature he chooses reverse psychology and removes A Trumpet In The Wadi from the required reading list. Did he secretly do it in order to lure kids back into reading?
If he did, he learnt from the best: in many ways Naftali Bennett reminds me of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s hero. Like the Minister, Tom is certain that he is much cleverer than the rest, and uses his ingenuity to get what he wants at the expense of others, as the famous story of whitewashing the fence illustrates.
“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”
Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:
“No – no – I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence – right here on the street, you know – but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”
“No – is that so? Oh come, now – lemme, just try. Only just a little – I’d let you, if you was me, Tom.”
“Ben, I’d like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly – well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it – ”
“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say – I’ll give you the core of my apple.”
“Well, here – No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard – ”
“I’ll give you all of it!”
Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By the time Ben was fagged out, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with – and so on, and so on, hour after hour...
…He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while – plenty of company – and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village."
Mark Twain summarizes the lesson of the whitewashing anecdote with these words: "Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain"
The classic novel Tom Sawyer, was banned in schools around the US, because Tom was seen as a questionable protagonist in terms of his moral character. We know that since the book was "difficult to attain" it became even more popular and in demand. Naftali Bennett just added another book to the best selling banned books.
The essay appeared in the Times of Israel
FAUNBROOK INN - WEST CHESTER, PA
James Baldwin was a local millionaire in the 1860s who had the need for a fine home so he built himself a very impressive place in West Chester. The home later belonged to GOP Congressman Smedley Darlington (what a name) who was also, of course, a wealthy oilman. The house is now the Faunbrook Inn. It's not exactly a hotel -- it is clearly a house -- but the Inn is very impressive. The house is constructed in a Federal-Italianate style with three floors and a large wrap-around porch with ornamental ironwork. There is a large parlor, library, dining room and sitting room/bar on the first floor and very nice bedrooms on the second and third floors.
The rooms are spacious and furnished with antiques. Each guest room had a private bath. The house was extremely quiet considering that it was 150 years old. Apart from the sound of someone using the stairs you could not hear anything from the rest of the house...not even water running or toilets flushing. People seemed comfortable congregating in the library. The porch was also very inviting since the weather was mild and the first floor windows and doors were open. There were large windows in the parlor that converted into doors so people could drift in and out as they pleased.. We were there as part of a wedding group so there was about a dozen people mingling throughout the Inn.
The breakfasts were excellent - French Toast strata with apples, berries and cream, apple-flavored sausage, scrambled eggs, juice and coffee...that was day 1. Day 2 was just as good and included an extra sample of the local "Scrapple" which is apparently a Pennsylvania thing -- sort of a sausage made up of butchering leftovers that tasted like bland sausage mixed with sawdust. Must be an acquired taste. The group managed to polish it all off. I was so busy eating I forgot to ask if this was the standard breakfast or something special for the wedding guests. It seemed like it was a normal breakfast based on how it was served.
What to do in the Brandywine Valley? -- Go to Baldwin's Book Barn
The thing to see close by is Baldwin's Book Barn -- a five story barn built in 1822 by the Darlington family (remember Smedley?) that was converted into a book store 75 years ago by William Baldwin (must be the son of the guy that built the Inn). It's only a short distance south of the Faunbrook Inn. A person could spend a weekend just roaming around in the stacks. Books are arranged by categories, more or less, and then shelved by author, more or less. The special first editions and rare books are on the first floor. Apparently they sell books by the foot. You can purchase refurbished leather-bound books at $300 per foot for your executive library...if you have one. We spent about an hour wandering around. I like Joseph Conrad and got a couple of his novels while there.