Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Nonfictional Book (Day 14)

Nonfiction reading is not exactly one of my favorite past times. Well. Not like reading the good old standard fictional novel. My mother is actually the nonfiction reader of the family, and it is quite difficult--and futile, I've come to discover--to persuade her otherwise. But it's absolutely necessary from time to time, because I'm a writer, and what do writers find themselves doing throughout the course of nearly every single story? You got it.

Research. And it doesn't matter what you write: contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, memoir. Before the fat lady sings, you're gonna have to crack open some factual account of... well, something. You simply cannot escape it.

If you're an historical writer, like me, you're probably in possession of one or two--maybe several--bookshelves dedicated to historical and biographical accounts, diaries, maps, etc. etc. My one (lovingly built by The Hubby, thank you very much) features titles like What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Georgette Heyer's Regency World, Wellington's Victories, The Prince of Pleasure, The Recollections of Rifleman Harris, and (one of my personal favorites) a 1960-ish edition hardback atlas I've used since childhood. (Every time I open that collection of maps, I have to get a good whiff of the pages. Love the pungent, musky aroma of old books.)

To pick one out of the many I've had to either thumb through or read from cover to cover for whatever bit of information I've needed at the time proved to be a more difficult feat than this challenge's first request (favorite song), but I do believe I've narrowed it down to a single title.
(This is what my copy looks like)

First, a little bit of history about the author. Marcus ruled as Emperor of Rome from April 26, 121 to March 17, 180. A busy reign, his was. At the time, Rome had set out to conquer the world. The Parthian Empire, Marcomanni, Sarmatians, and Quadi--and that's just to name a few--fell hard to his ruthless, highly advanced armies. The book we call "Meditations," whose Greek title actually means "To Himself," was written during an entire decade of these battles (170-180) and is not only one of the greatest philosophical works of all time, but is revered as a literary monument of service and duty, guidance and inspiration.

Why do I love this book so much? Firstly, it was given to me by my mother. Yes, the nonfiction reader of the family. When I received it in the mail some years ago, taped inside the front cover lay this note: "I do so hope you enjoy this book; I know I have. You'll reflect on it time and time again."  All throughout, my mother's perfect flowing handwriting appears. Highlights and underlines. Scripture, definitions, and her own personal thoughts written in the margins. She must've spent days, possibly a week or two, making certain she left no page unturned. No bit of philosophy without some comment or comparable Biblical scripture.

Page after page reflects a man's search for wisdom, his appreciation to those who taught him, a fierce love for his closest friends and his family. He even respected his enemies and those who diligently sought to find fault in his personal beliefs. In regards to the critic Alexander, a Greek scholar known as 'the Grammarian,' he says, "It was the critic Alexander who put me on my guard against unnecessary fault-finding. People should not be sharply corrected for bad grammar, provincialisms, or mispronunciation; it is better to suggest the proper expression by tactfully introducing it oneself in, say, one's reply to a question or one's acquiescence in their sentiments."

To Maximus (Claudius Maximus, the Stoic philosopher, not Maximus the general from Gladiator, although that would've been really cool) he says, "He was my model for self-control, fixity of purpose, and cheerfulness under ill-health or other misfortunes.  His character was an admirable combination of dignity and charm, and all the duties of his station were performed quietly and without fuss."

I could go on and on, there's so much wisdom to be had in this short account of the Emperor's musings. For me, it's been one of those bedside books. Pick it up, read a passage, put it down, turn out the light, and then meditate on what you've just read. I've used excerpts in my own writing, as well. Even had a secondary character who labeled Marcus Aurelius as his most favorite philosopher, and therefore quoted bits and pieces of wisdom to his children whenever the notion struck or the particular scene or issue at hand called for it.

So, I ask you, gentle reader... What work of nonfiction do you hold most dear? Is there a particular book to which you return over and over? Is it for research? Pleasure? I'd love to add some new spines to my shelf!

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,



Andrew Leon said...

I'm not what I would consider a non-fiction reader, and, when there is something non-fiction that I read, it's generally not something you'd return to. The obvious exception to this is The Bible, which I've read cover-to-cover twice aside from any specific readings or studies I've done. Other than that, my main concentration of non-fiction reading has been biographies about Tolkien and Lewis. Also U2. I did just finish Bright-sided, which was a great read. I quite like Barbara Ehrenreich and, I suppose, am working my way through her books.

Lela said...

I'm not much of a non-fiction reader, either, except for research. How-to books and idea books and books about writing are among the cache on my shelves. I do love Stephen King's, "On Writing" (I know, these titles are supposed to be italicized, but I have yet to figure out I have read this one many times. It's full of great advice!

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