Friday, May 23, 2014

Here a word, there a word

There has been much lamenting and handwringing over the isolating effect technology has on us - and rightly so.  (This video is my favorite.)  Human interactions are reduced to texting and messaging, sometimes even when we're in the same room.  We witness birthdays and events through tiny screens instead of watching them happen in front of us.  We post what we ate for lunch and share pithy memes, political rants, and cat pictures for all the world to see.  But I wonder who really cares what our score was on Pet Rescue Saga, what song we're listening to, or if we just saw a clown make a balloon animal.  How often do we go back and watch those videos, and how do they compare to half-missing the real thing?  It's kind of pathetic when you think about it, or as Syndrome might say: "Lame, lame, lame!"

And yet, it's not all lame.  Apparently, some of us who are staring at our phones while in line at Burger King aren't playing BubbleLand but are actually reading Emily Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Willa Cather, or even M.M. Hastings.  It's being called interstitial reading - using those fragmented moments of otherwise wasted time to read - and many of us are reading the classics we slept through in high school.  After all, you can download them for free (or nearly so), and who cares if it takes three or four months to finish?  Personally, I just finished Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  No, Miss Haltiner didn't assign it in high school, but it's one of those books you hear quoted often enough and is worth reading.

Pip is being "raised by hand" by his older sister (which apparently means she was pretty hard on him), and she is none to happy about it.  Luckily her husband, Joe, takes a liking to the small boy and occasionally intervenes on his behalf.  A couple of notable events happen to young Pip: first, he runs into a frightening escaped convict while wandering the marshes and helps him with food and a file to remove the leg iron.  Second, a neighbor arranges for him to visit Miss Havisham, the wealthy and eccentric old woman who has wasted away in perpetual bitterness at having been left at the altar.  But as he grows into a young man he is informed that he has "great expectations" and has come into a future inheritance from an unknown benefactor.  His life changes drastically; he leaves Joe's blacksmith forge and moves to London, where he begins his training as a gentleman, but with limited guidance he frequently falls into debt and folly.  

Dickens is a master of the English language, and in the beginning I often found myself laughing and highlighting humorous comments.  The story, however, languished for me in the middle while Pip is in London.  I imagine this could be why some critics complain that since Dickens was being paid by the word, his writing becomes a bit wordy and the story drags a little at this point (and maybe that's why it took me several months).  Still, the characters are fascinating and add to the eventual conclusion - which I found very satisfying.  I've previously admitted that it's not often I guess the mystery before it's revealed, but I didn't think Pip's "great expectations" were hard to figure out.  Nonetheless, that didn't detract from the story and I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone with a little interstitial time while in line at Burger King, waiting at the doctor's office, or... wherever.

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