A blogger in the UK found my page about The Fountainhead and liked it, so I thought I’d return the favor and reblog this perceptive writeup about a bookshop in Wales. The entire post is good, but it goes beyond standard review practices by including this bit:
A few weeks ago I saw this in practice. I was watching a stage adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. As Atticus handed down his now familiar message that ‘you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them’ I wondered how much they had affected my personality since the first time I read the novel at thirteen years old. In the intermission, I was stuck in the queue behind a terrible woman who was growing not just frustrated but downright angry at the understaffed team of young baristas who were taking just a little bit too long to get her her tea. It’s astounding how we can sit and watch a play about the importance of empathising with others and then five minutes later, be completely unable to do so. My point is that books – fiction or non-fiction – can make us better people by asking us to think about things that lie beyond us as individuals. But only if we actually read them with open hearts and minds and let them make those transformations in us.
Reading about or seeing something is one thing, acting on it is quite another. People need to take time slow down and give others a chance to do their jobs. Reading that passage brought Korea’s rush-rush-rush culture to mind, for the entire country depends on getting things gone fast. People often have little to no patience here for minor slowdowns. They’ll push and shove their way onto buses and trains, they’ll shout at restaurant waitstaff, they’ll argue with store clerks, and they’ll honk their way through traffic. My students can’t wait 2 seconds for a web page to load before they switch back to Kakao talk or start a game. And really, at the end of the day, what’s a few extra seconds of time waiting for tea or a spot on the bus?
A few days ago, I was talking to a friend about some of the more unsavory people we’ve dealt with over the years. He said, “I don’t know how you do it. You are particularly resilient to other people’s arrogance. And just overall dealing with people who seem to have abrasive or corrosive personalities.” I suppose I do, for teaching’s put me face to face with plenty of angry young kids who want nothing more to burn the school and other adults who can’t see past their own arrogance. How I managed (or, how we can manage) goes back to Atticus’s line about putting yourself in the other man’s place. Surely, there are reasons for why he acts the way he does, and once I hear about them or discover them, his attitude becomes quite understandable. Another thing I do is to look for the man’s good points, for surely he has them too. This idea came out of grading students’ writings, because they respond better to “you have an excellent set of ideas, but please spend some more time on your syntax” than “Your sentences are horrible and you need to rewrite this.”
The lesson for the day is to act on and internalize the perceptive things we see in art. Literature has boundless educational qualities, but they’re useless if we don’t bother to do anything about them. The lessons of To Kill A Mockingbird are wasted if no one bothers with empathy. And to bring this back to The Fountainhead, though Roark goes to extreme lengths to preserve his artistic integrity, he can teach us why holding onto ideals matters more than making a quick buck.
For the readers…
What have you read today that’s inspired you?
What can you take away from what you’ve read?
When I visited this lovely bookshop a few weeks ago, the Hay Festival was kicking off. On the first weekend of the festival, the sun had come out and the streets of this little Welsh town were full of laughter and music. Hay-on-Wye Booksellers is perfectly situated on the High Street, right at the centre of the action, making it an indispensable part of the Hay-on-Wye experience.
Street musicians and market stalls filled the square outside this shop and tourists, grateful for a bit of good weather, bared their legs and arms lying on the grass in the shadow of the town’s medieval castle. The atmosphere was decidedly festive, celebratory even, and even those trying to read didn’t seem too annoyed to be distracted by the sounds of this traditional, Starbucks-free High Street.
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