First we made pets of our children; now we make children of our pets. The title of Caleb Stegall's Against Pets might make some turn away in reflexive disgust, but it is a reasoned and worthwhile commentary on the bizarre twist our relationship with animals has taken. How far we have come from the shepherd's down-to-earth love for his sheepdog, and from C. S. Lewis's description of the ideal earthly relationship between man and beast: Man is no longer isolated. We are now as we ought to be—between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants and playfellows. (That Hideous Strength, chapter 17.)
Where have you been all my life, GK? G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is another one of those classic, cultural icons totally missing from my educational experience. I guess the best thing I can say for having never met him in school is that he wasn't ruined for me, so discovering him now is a delight. What Is America? is an essay worth reading in full, not the least because Chesterton's style does not lend itself at all to capture by excerpt.
The first principle is that nobody should be ashamed of thinking a thing funny because it is foreign; the second is that he should be ashamed of thinking it wrong because it is funny.
Oh, and the part about the U. S. asking visitors if they're anarchists, polygamists, or support the overthrow of the U. S. Government by force? It's true. The other day I was looking at a 1921 ship's manifest for arriving foreign passengers, and the questions are right there, just as Chesterton reports. To his insightful analysis of the reasoning behind such questions, I would add this pragmatic consideration: No, they weren't foolish enough to expect a terrorist to answer truthfully, but—like the "tax evasion" conviction ploy used against American gangsters—if they couldn't convict him for throwing the bomb, they might be able to deport him for lying to the immigration authorities.
Books: The Original Plug-In Drug. Everyone from parents, teachers, and librarians to corporations and the Federal Government laments that children do not read for pleasure anymore. What little unstructured time they have is sucked up by television, video games, and computers. How do we get children to read more? is the question of the age. I'm here to question that question. I'm an avid, voracious reader, and in general I side with the librarians on this one: I'm more concerned by adults who do not read for pleasure, but realize such habits begin in childhood. I'm certain there's causation as well as correlation between my love of reading and the fact that television did not enter my life until after my seventh birthday.
Nevertheless...I feel the need to sound a cautionary note, one probably familiar to all bibliophiles, but which I'm not hearing: It is possible for a child to read too much. Reading, just like video games, TV, and computers, can keep people from experiencing real life. There were couch potatoes before there were remote controls. When I was 16, my family took a once-in-a-lifetime car trek across the United States. Unfortunately for me, our first stop was to visit my aunt and uncle. My uncle was as much of a science fiction fan as I was, and he had a wonderful collection of books, a large stack of which he lent me for the trip. I was in heaven—but spent the journey seeing more of the words on the page than the fruited plains and purple mountain majesties.
John C. Wright gets it. SFSignal asked a group of science fiction writers what books held special memories for them. Wright's response is at the bottom of the page, and is well worth reading in its entirety because of the commentary that accompanies his list. But the immediate inspiration for this post was the following:
'Tis all too true, and should not be. Books provide contact with reality unrestricted by time and distance, and good books can and should be part of the shaping of our character. But never at the expense of real work, real play, and the purple mountain majesties.
The difference between a bookish person and a non-bookish person...is that our formative thoughts, memories, and ideas, the things that shaped our character, come largely from books rather than from real-life experiences.