’m not a loyal radio listener. I’ve got a half-dozen stations on my presets and as soon as a dumb-ass commercial comes on (usually aimed at suburbanites and their standardized needs) I jump. Came out of hyperspace the other day on WPRK (Rollins student radio, 91.1 on your dial) and heard a fascinating interview on the program To a Certain Degree.
I’m sorry, I don’t know who the interviewer or the guest were. I couldn’t find names on any of the station’s site and I’ll only dig so far for acknowledgments. Still, it was interesting.
The guest was talking about finding a site where a woman blogged a daily gratitude, just something in her life she was thankful for. That struck him as dedication, a dedication he wanted part of. So he looked around for something he could commit to, a central support of his life that would make sense and force more from himself than simple consumerism.
He noted that he liked listening to show tunes while he worked. One of those sets was Les Miserables. Oddly, he’d never seen the show, never read the book, knew nothing about it. He just liked the music. And then this quandary of what to center his life on. In this light, he looked into the story and its basis, the Victor Hugo novel. Oddly, it has 365 chapters, a numerologist’s joy as that’s strangely the number of days in a year. And that caught his attention. His decision – even though he wasn’t really a reader, he’d read a chapter a day and write about his observations on Facebook.
By now I was in the parking garage at work but I just sat there with engine-off, radio-on. He continued with his findings about the world of France in the 1800’s, this world he knew nothing about. With some of the chapters, he’d have to research. He looked up Waterloo, the French Revolution, all the factors that went into this book of poverty and pursuit.
And yes, I got that. It’s a reader’s thing, of learning about a place and time so foreign to you, it’s like a race on an alien planet. I felt that way when I started to get curious about the people Alexander vanquished, the poor Phoenicians (two books came from that). And the Egyptians (from Wenamon’s tale, which came up a lot in history books on the Phoenicians). And then there were the Assyrians, who were only known to me before this as coming down like a wolf on the fold. To them, I started researching a follow-up series to my first work, Fire and Bronze. And then there was all the information I got about crows, the naturalism of which was inspired by Watership Down.
So, yes, if you go beyond the covers of Harry Potter, if you sniff around tales set in our world, you’ll learn all manner of things. And this long view can help you across your difficult life. It will make things seem more sensical. It will provide caution in things political or otherwise (I’m thinking about our current electoral conflictions and the descent of Germany). You’ll learn great acts, great loves, great moments. And yes, you’ll see more span of the world than you ever believed possible.
So don’t think stories come from your Roku box. Those are reheated fastfood tales taken from the established tropes of the classics. Go to the source of philosophy, history and the human condition.
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