I had a lot of fun with this week’s readings, they made me long for my days as an English major when I could read fiction for class! For this week’s readings, our class broke into groups that each chose a short reading that is in the public domain by virtue of its age or a creative commons license. For my group, the readings were “The Crime” by Victor Hugo, “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf, “The Street That Got Mislaid” by Patrick Waddington, and the traditional poem “The Queen of Hearts” as illustrated by Ralph Caldecott. Tomorrow in class we will hold a Socratic Seminar to go over these readings and our impressions of them.
Because my subgroup is in charge of leading discussion of our selection, “The Crime” by Victor Hugo, I will withhold commentary of my interpretation to avoid influencing the opinions of readers should they stumble across this blog. “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf is, unsurprisingly, the densest of the reads. In this story, a ghostly couple searches for something throughout an old house, eventually finding it in a sleeping (living) couple, one ghost exclaiming “Look, sound asleep, love upon their lips.” My impression is that the ghosts are searching for love and the short story highlights the fleeting nature of love and all emotions. The ghosts’ discussion remembers times that they spent together, and the repetition of “safe, safe, safe!” in the story suggests that this safety cannot be taken for granted. It seems to me, therefore, that love is the “light in the heart” to which Woolf’s narrator refers. I am curious to see what other readers in my group think.
My favorite story of the bunch was “The Street that Got Mislaid,” which concerns a file clerk who discovers a street in Montreal that had been completely overlooked by the city’s planning department for many years. Upon visiting the street and discovering the near-idyllic life lived by its inhabitants, the protagonist is able to transcend his love of bureaucracy and join them. This story appeals to me because I think in all of us, there is sometimes a desire to start a new life from scratch, and this idea becomes ever more impossible the more interconnected we become.
The final reading is the well-known rhyme “The Queen of Hearts” (you know, the one who makes tarts that the knave of hearts steals). What makes this story interesting is the beautiful illustrations by Ralph Caldecott. There are so many of them, and they are so lush and detailed, that they really do transport you to the Queen of Hearts’ world. It goes a long way toward explaining why the medal for excellence in children’s book illustrations is called the Caldecott.
A quick note on last week’s class: we discussed an article by Marc Prensky suggesting that a university should deliberately set out to become the first to entirely ban paper books, because doing so would make them famous. I was horrified by the article, and so were my colleagues, so I take comfort that the future of the profession is in good hands. Our fear, however, is that someone in a position of power will take this idea and run with it, without thinking of issues of preservation and the readers who will be left behind.