Wednesday, February 24, 2010

While the Tub Fills...

Namaste, Christopher.

I've just put Isherwood's A Single Man back on the shelf.

I fear I did the book, and the memory of its author, little good, but let that go...

After what felt like a month of Wednesdays, I am at last done substituting as host of The Seattle Gay & Lesbian Book Club at Dunshee House. Next week, the world will right itself, the regular and rightful host will return to his armchair, and I can go back to being just the kibitzer-in-residence. I think everyone involved must share in my relief. (And bless those good and patient friends at the Club who came, and even came back, some of them, more than once, during this difficult month of my ersatz facilitation. It can have been no easier for them than it was for me, this understudied performance. Take heart, though, fellow sufferers: next month, Colette and a host with proper questions, notes and better preparation and without the panicked stutter of a poorly primed radiator.)

So now, with no committee work for some time yet to come, no friend's manuscripts still to be read, and only one promised editing-project not yet begun, I am all but without obligation and may read what I wish. The prospect, for now, of pleasing just myself, has me fantasizing about long, hot baths, cool drinks, and thick books.

I cheated a little, this month, as everyone present at the February meetings of the Club might have guessed, and for every evening spent dipping into Isherwood's diaries, or rereading the novel and rereading the novel and rereading the novel, I must have spent as many hours or more avoiding the novel, ignoring the materials by and about Isherwood that continued to accumulate, uselessly, on my desk all month, and abashedly snuck away... to see other people.

Sitting just here, in my library, the shelf of fiction directly in my line of vision, should I glance up from my desk, -- and how could I not? -- happens to start with "Trevor, William" and end with "Trollope, Anthony." A couple of weeks ago, fearing I might well find myself alone come the next Book Club Wednesday, I jokingly suggested here that I might take Orley Farm with me to the next meeting -- just to have something other than the official February selection to read. Well, while I thankfully was never left completely alone on that or any Wednesday, I did, I admit, find the joke a real possibility, and so I did bring along Trollope, just in case. Now, I left him in the car, but still... I knew he was there, and that was a comfort.

In fact, the same night I looked up and saw him there, I took Anthony from the shelf and instead of making notes on the Vedantist view of death, as I intended, I sat up late in my armchair, lost in Orley Farm. ('nother reason I'd be a lousy teacher? Lesson plans.)

"The name might lead to the idea that new precepts were to be given, in the pleasant guise of a novel, as to cream-cheeses, pigs with small bones, wheat sown in drills, or artificial manure." But, explains Trollope, on his very first page, "No such aspirations are mine." Instead, the plot is all to do with a renewed attempt, twenty years after the fact, to contest a possibly fraudulent will. The eponymous farm is just the plot of land in question. (Though a search for the "best quality," unadulterated guano, does figure in the action in the first hundred pages or so that I read that night, this is just one of the author's little jokes.) How could I not read on?

Without meaning to, I read 183 pages of the book before I made myself stop.

Now I'm free to follow Trollope through the courts and all the way to his end at page # 725.

I should be content to do so, had I not found, just the other day at lunch, still more of the little blue Oxford World Classics at a local bookshop. As a result, I've been guiltily reading snatches of Ruskin, among others. And now I'm free, free at last, I am contemplating another little book I bought in that same foray: John Dryden's Virgil, specifically, his Aeneis, which I've never read. I had, you might remember, a very happy time a year or more ago with Alexander Pope's Homer. Whatever might be said against it as translation, Pope's was the first Ulysses I didn't find an unbearable shit . (Oddly enough, in the Ruskin essay I happen to be reading, "Of the Pathetic Fallacy," he contrasts what I assume to be his own translation with Pope's, and most disapprovingly. "I sincerely hope the reader finds no pleasure here," warns stern old stick, Ruskin, of the four lines he quotes from Pope. Oops.) I find, after just a few pages, I may well enjoy Dryden's Romans-of-Trojan-descent, as much as I did Pope's Greeks. The only issue so far with reading the Dryden, now that I may, is all to do with the edition I found. It's a pretty little book, "two volumes in one," from 1870 and published in Philadelphia, by "Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger." But the density of the text, in thick gray blocks, and the smallness of the print, and the badness of my eyes, necessitates me perching a second set of reading glasses just below my own if I'm to read the book at all. I think of these glasses as my training-wheels for the bifocals I so obviously require but have yet to get, and I have no vanity about wearing the things, but I have just this Irish nose on which to rest both pairs, so unless I'm in bed and holding the book above my face, much time is lost in poking my stacked glasses back into place. Most distracting. Still, well worth the trouble, I think, for Dryden.

Finally, tonight, I came home from the last Book Club of the month, the last for which I am, hopefully, ever to be entirely responsible, and started reading none of these, but instead David Shield's new... whatchamacallit, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Nothing for it but to finish this tonight. Not because I have to, mind, or because I am trying to fit it in-between, but because I can, you see, because I can.

Tub's full. Iced tea? Check. Ashtray on the toilet.

I'm not to be disturbed.

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