Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Copperfield and the engine that could

Wondering what that title means? I'll explain, and you'll soon realize that this blog post is more on the literary side of its name, rather than the leotard side. Sorry, no exercise descriptions on this one.

Yesterday, I took my grandson, Josh, to the New York Botanical Garden. Josh's Uncle Michael, my older son, joined us.  After drinking in a two and a half year old's excitement at seeing all the trains, especially Thomas, at the garden's Holiday Train Show, we went to The Little Engine That Could puppet show. Do you remember that wonderful children's book about the train that was carrying toys to boys and girls over the mountain? It broke down, couldn't make it to its destination, and another little train came along to help it. That helper had never pulled a big, full train over a mountain  before and it kept convincing itself that it could do the job by repeating "I think I can, I think I can." It's a wonderful story of grit and determination and a positive message to little ones - try your hardest and you can accomplish what you set out to do - believe in yourself - all that good stuff little kids need to feel ---and big kids, too. Even adults.

Rather than "I think I can", I've been saying "I know I can, I will." That mantra relates to my reading of David Copperfield. Going to the Morgan Library, explained in a previous blog post, drew me to Dickens' novels. I am determined to finish this 850 page book, all in small print written in the language of 1850. That's not such an easy task! I read a chapter, sometimes engrossed (I was this morning), but often slugging through tedious, wordy passages, then slap the book closed saying,"I'm done! I'll watch the movie." (I did order the BBC series from Netflix.) But then my literary side takes over. "I can," I say, "I know I can. I will." Grit and determination. I'm not sure that's what the little engine was referring to, but I'll plug ahead, if it takes a year, and finish reading this wonderful story absorbing Dickens' way of stringing words together that evoke anger, pity, and endearment. I imagine more descriptions will come to me as I read on. I'm only on page 110.

Here's a passage from Chapter VIII that I read this morning. It made me stop in my tracks, got me confused. To set the scene, David had come home from boarding school to find his mother with a baby suckling at her breast. "She was sitting by the fire, suckling an infant, whose tiny hand she held against her neck." He hadn't been told he had a baby brother, but that's not of importance here. David, his mother with baby and Peggotty, David's loving childhood nurse, were sitting together and chatting (read the book and you'll find out about what). Dickens wrote, referring to Peggotty, "And she kissed me beforehand, in grateful aknowledgment of my hospitality.... After that she took the baby out of its cradle, and nursed it."  Okay, I got confused. If the baby had been suckling at his mother's breast, why was Peggotty nursing the baby and how did she have milk at her age? Then, on the next page I read,"I took the baby in my arms and nursed it lovingly. When it was asleep again, I crept close to my mother's side..." What?? How could David Copperfield nurse the baby? In an instant I realized the different meaning of the word "nurse" from 1850 to 2011. Now we'd say "cuddled". Interesting, isn't it?

That's what makes reading so fascinating. Not only do we travel to foreign places, immerse overselves in other cultures and eras; we are fed the beauty of words. So, read on everyone. And in the spirit of the holidays, give a book to someone, let them hold it in their hands and savour the feel of the page on their finger tips, the taste of the phrase on their tongues.

After you finish reading, stand up and stretch out. Do a back extension. See, I couldn't let a blog go by without a fitness tip.

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