This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The half-blood princess

The Kindle app has this "popular highlights" feature, wherein you can see text that other Kindle users have highlighted. In academic books, this could be super useful. In the romance novels (aka Lady Porn) I consume like potato chips this allows for a new, weird form of voyeurism. 
It's weird to get that little glimpse inside the heads of the other folks who read this stuff - it's weird to hear what really turns them on. Like, you'd think people would highlight the filthy bits for future reference. That's what we're in it for, right? Only that's generally not the case. They highlight the lovey dovey crap. They highlight the sweet things the men say in the cuddling afterglow. The parts where the men assure them that their curves are sexy and that their imperfections only make them more perfect, or whatever. They highlight the funny bits, they highlight the bits they think are deep. In the Fifty Shades books, hundreds of other readers highlighted the wedding vows. Which I have to assume means that at least some of those readers actually used those wedding vows.
Which reminds me, random aside, of this interview I saw with the artist Sting. Sting wrote this song Every Breath You Take, which has lyrics like this:
Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I'll be watching you

Oh, can't you see you belong to me
How my poor heart aches with every step you take
Some people think these lyrics are super romantic and super sexy.  Sane people think this song is super creepy and stalker-y. Which makes sense, since Sting wrote the song about the absolute nutter who was stalking him. There's an interview in which Sting talks about people who think the song is romantic. He says fans are always telling him how romantic the song is, and how many fans have told him that they'd used Every Step You Take in their wedding. Sting says whenever he hears that, he sort of cringes and thinks "ugh... good luck." But I digress as usual.
My 8th grade English teacher kept a little library of books at the back of the classroom, several of which were her college English books. I remember reading this book of Frost poetry one day, and her annotations in it. Isn't it funny the things we remember? I can't remember a single thing I learned in math in 8th grade, but I can remember precisely her tight penciled cursive in the lining of that book. Anyway, I remember in the poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, next to "Whose woods these are I think I know / His house is in the village though," she'd written God's house. Now, throughout my many years as an English major I've heard many interpretations of Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, including one surprisingly cogent essay arguing that the speaker of the poem is, in fact Santa Claus. But I don't remember anybody saying it was about God. It seems kind of like a Poetry 101 interpretation, honestly. 
Or I thought so, until just the other day that scribble popped into my head and I rethought it. Actually, Robert Frost had an interesting relationship with religion. His mom practiced a sort of mysticism called Swedenborgianism, which was quite obviously made up by the Muppets' Swedish Chef. 

Frost called himself an "Old Testament Christian," but rarely went to church or wrote about God. However, read through Frost's catalog, and you'll find his primary preoccupation to be nature, the natural world. Acquainted with the Night, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, The Road Not Taken - they all take place out of doors, immersed in creation. So it's not much of a leap to conclude that nature was Frost's church, that creation was what he held most sacred. And so it might well be that the line his house is in the village though is a cheeky little dig at the folks who think to find God inside a church inside a village, rather than out in the wilds of his creation. Or it might be that Robert Frost once trespassed in some guy's woods and wrote a poem about it. I tend to think that most poems are about what they are about, and that attempts to find secret meanings in great works of poetry are like dissecting a frog expecting to find Swedish fish inside. 
But how cool is it that a pencil scribble in a book you read more than 20 years ago can like, out of the blue give you a different understanding of a poem you've read a million times since? 

In college I always used to get to the bookstore early, in hopes of getting used books with the least amount of other people's crap in them. Now I kind of gravitate towards other people's highlights and scratches in the margin. How rare it is in real life to be able to read over another person's shoulder and hear what they're saying in their mind.

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