Graupel, Great Books, and Growth (aka: Don’t Stand Still)

Last week, something bizarre happened where I live. It snowed. Okay, fine, it wasn’t exactly snow. More like an enormous amount of hail that dumped all over the city ground during an intense thundershower. But there was so much of it, that it blanketed the streets, piled up on the sidewalks, and led to car spin-outs and a very long commute home.

On the news later that evening, the weatherman referred to the weird snow/hail/white stuff as graupel. Small pellets of soft hail. All around town, people were shoveling grapuel from their walkways. Kids — and adults — were throwing grapuel balls and forming little graupelmen and making grapuel angels on the ground.

Graupel

I had so much fun saying the new word I’d learned, that I kept repeating it. “Hey kids, did it graupel at your school today? Don’t forget your gloves — it might graupel again today!” (Seriously, it’s fun to say. You should try it. Graupel graupel graupel).

Learning new words still gives me a little thrill. In fact, learning almost anything gives me a thrill. There is something so satisfying about downloading new tidbits of information into my ever-expanding database of knowledge. Some of those new skills and ideas get lost in an overcrowded folder somewhere. But others invade my mind like a virus, affecting the way I once thought and acted.

When I read a good book — not just entertaining light fiction, but good, hearty literature — I am often presented with new words, or esoteric phrases, or ethical dilemmas that challenge me, forcing me to dig in, to question and refine my own beliefs. Same goes for a well-made documentary, film, or other work of art. These experiences won’t let me stand still. I can feel myself stretching until I have reached such dimensions that I could not go back to being my old self if I tried.

New Dimensions

It is easy for us to stand still, to grow complacent with our stagnation, to drift through the routine of our days while allowing ourselves only the passive entertainment of cat videos and humorous memes. Even I am prone to that, nodding my head to cheap pop music, or absorbing myself in shallow reading. It is like lying on a warm beach, licking an ice cream cone. Panacea to the everyday stresses that afflict us all. It is not a bad thing.

But something burning inside me refuses to allow myself to stay the same. Train yourself, it says. It will not allow me to be content with an outdated inner database, watching graupel fall and calling it snow. Eating sugary, processed foods and convincing myself that it’s good for my body. Doing nothing at all and saying that I am becoming a better version of myself.

gears turning thinking ideas

Today is Tuesday. Some say it is the dullest day of the week — not bleak enough to be a Monday, nor hopeful enough to be a Friday. I say that Tuesdays should become our most productive day. We have shaken off the sleepiness and are ready to learn, ready to challenge ourselves, ready to shine. So let’s log back into those free online classes we’ve been ignoring. Let’s buy ingredients and actually try to cook that intriguing Thai vegetable soup recipe we found last year on Pinterest. Let sunlight fall on the pages of a new Great Book filled with ideas and words we’ve never heard before. Try a new piece of equipment at the gym. Read some opposing political viewpoints and let it shake up your own prized worldview. Let’s get out there and help each other grow toward our fullest potential.

Just don’t stand still.

Just Can’t Get Enough Great Books

Some books are like a light meal.  Memoirs of a Geisha, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Joy Luck Club all come to mind. They are pleasant, enjoyable to read, and just filling enough to take off the edge. Other books are like a healthy snack — tasty, good while it lasts, but not at all filling, like many young adult novels, and nearly anything by Stephen King. Of course, there is also book candy — those delicious, melt-in-your mouth reads that are thrilling every now and then, but eat too much, and you get a stomach ache. Twilight, anyone? Better yet, how about 50 Shades of Gray? (Did I actually read this? I plead the fifth!).

But I am an avid reader with a voracious appetite. For readers such as I, only one thing can feed our never-ending hunger: Great Books. What are Great Books, you ask? Well, Wikipedia’s article has a very simple definition: “The great books are those books that are believed to constitute an essential foundation in the literature of Western culture.” Philosopher Mortimer Adler goes on to define great books by these three fundamental criteria:

  • the book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
  • the book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit
  • the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.

These definitions are all true, but I also believe that great books and great works of literature are the books that nourish our minds and raise within us the questions which we never dared to ask ourselves, the moral dilemmas that are common to all of humankind. Great books examine human nature, tear it open, and resurrect it in a believable and honest way. They reach beyond the superficial surface and grab our spirits until we are left shaken and stirred and inspired.

Too much? Sorry, I got a little carried away. I have been very busy lately devouring great books, both in English and Spanish. Here is a list of a few great books which I have read (or re-read) fairly recently. This is not necessarily a list of favorites, for it is very difficult to create such a list…it is far too long. But here are a few which are very much worth reading. Haven’t tried these books yet? Then grab one, and curl up in your favorite reading spot. Already read the entire list? Well then, that’s just…great.

10 Great Great Books

1. Brave New World     —    Aldous Huxley

2. Northanger Abbey  —  Jane Austen

3. A Tale of Two Cities  —  Charles Dickens

4. Animal Farm  —  George Orwell

5. The Odyssey  —  Homer 

6. Mansfield Park  —  Jane Austen

7. Twelfth Night  —  Williams Shakespeare

8. Moby Dick  —  Herman Melville

9. Atlas Shrugged  —  Ayn Rand

10. Cien Años de Soledad  —  Gabriel Garcia Marquez