Friday, October 22, 2021

Five Random Things to Know When Reading Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo


I'll do more of these as we read The Count of Monte Cristo in Brad's Big Fat Book Club, as they occur to me and or as the need arises, but here are my first five:

1) Long novels in France were a way to get around the censorship of newspapers. Strange but true. When Dumas published The Count of Monte Cristo, serialization was the rage and Dumas was king! There were plenty of other practitioners like Eugene Sue in France and most famously Charles Dickens in Britain. (The first serialized sensation in America was Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1851.) Dumas' success came in part due to the invention of the feuilleton. French newspapers at the beginning of the nineteenth century were largely political and subject to the ruthless suppression of whomever happened to be in power, revolutionaries to royalists. The way 'round this was to include cultural content for the first time, presumably to show there was more to a particular publication than just beating the merde out of one's political opponents. The feuilleton, or leaf from a book, eventually became de rigueur. It wasn't until the advent of serialized novels that this practice eventually contributed substantially to the newspapers' bottom line, and nobody brought in the readers like Alexandre Dumas pere. The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published in the Journal des Debats from August 1844 to January 1846, in 18 parts, 139 installments! (The publication of Dumas' earlier sensation The Three Musketeers actually overlapped with The Count of Monte Cristo. It was a good time for the readers of Dumas.) Long stories? Devoted newspaper readers.

2) At the pinnacle of his commercial and artistic success, Dumas wrote for twelve to fourteen hours a day. This is hard to imagine anyone doing, but he did. In fact, a rough estimate of his output comes to more than 100,000 pages. For all his extravagance, his travelling, and his fabulous parties (he was late in joining his friend Garibaldi for a battle because he threw an enormous feast in Naples the night before,) there was never a time when Dumas wasn't writing. He worked for every franc he spent -- though he always spent more than he earned.

3) Dumas was what we would now call "a brand." Dumas was a man of the theater and theater is among the most collaborative of the arts. His first successes were all on the stage and he only turned to writing novels when he saw that he got a much bigger slice of the profits from books than he ever saw from his plays. He worked with many collaborators, famous and obscure, from Alfred de Vigny to many a struggling young hack. Collaboration was common in the literature of his day and if he regularly lent his name to others, it was because his genius eventually came to signify commercial success. Yes, he spent money like a lottery winner from Ohio, but he was also famous for his generosity. He never walked past a  beggar in Paris or Rome or wherever he went that the beggar didn't walk away richer, and often with all the money Dumas had in his pocket. He was likewise generous to other artists, even to some who might have been fairly described as his enemies. So when it came to collaborating with others on his fiction, nobody went hungry, even if the publishers didn't want his collaborators' names on the work. His most famous collaborator, Auguste Maquet, with whom Dumas wrote his best books, eventually sued Dumas for credit. The judge famously said that Dumas without Maquet would still have been Dumas, but what was Maquet without Dumas? Well, unlike Dumas, Maquet died rich, became an officer of the Legion d'honnier, and was buried with full honors in Pere Lachaise. The other difference? Nobody reads August Maquet.

4) "The Count of Monte Cristo? But I've seen that movie." Yeah you have. Everybody has. Your great grandmother saw that movie. The first stage adaptations appeared before the book was finished. Dumas himself made a stage play in four parts, and the first performance of just part one lasted over six hours. It was a hit. The first American film adaptation premiered is 1908, starring the delightfully named Hobart Bosworth. Eugene O'Neill's dad, James starred in a 1913 film, adapted from the stage version he performed in over six thousand times (please see O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night for that sad story.) Probably everyone over a certain age has seen the glorious Robert Donat in the classic 1934 movie, still considered one of the best films of that year and one of the best adventure films of all time -- despite the single worst ending ever added, and trust me, all the movies change the ending. The Donat film was such a hit it eventually spawned two sequels: Son of Monte Cristo and Monte Cristo's Revenge, neither of which has Donat nor anything much to do with Dumas. (Neither's that bad but both unfortunately star the unfortunate Louis Hayward, as bland a slab of unfortunate ham as ever was served on the silver screen.) The 1934 film also figures prominently in 2005's V for Vendetta, which is kind of a low-brow rock opera without music of the Monte Cristo plot. For me personally, there will always be the be-a-u-tiful Richard Chamberlain, lookin' all doe-eyed and dangerous in his white wig and brown whiskers in the 1978 TV movie. Jean Marias, Louis Jordan, Gerard Depardieu, Jim Caviezel -- these last two before they both lost their damn minds -- there have been a lot of famous actors who played Edmond Dantes, and more that played it in every language from Russian to Chinese. I haven't seen them all, but I've watched a lot and trust me, none was faithful to the book so much as to those early stage adaptations, all of which changed the ending and a great deal besides. So, yeah. You've seen the movie(s). So have I, but if you haven't read the book? You don't really know The Count of Monte Cristo.

5) There is no good biography of Alexandre Dumas pere in English, alas. There is an excellent biography of his dad: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss. Published in 2012 by Crown (ISBN: 9780307382474), Reiss' biography tells the truly remarkable story of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, Revolutionary hero, son of a French Marquis and his Haitian slave, companion and rival to and eventually victim of Napoleon Bonaparte. Great book. Dear ol' Andre Maurois told the story of all three Alexandres, father, son, and grandson in a lovely joint biography from 1957, The Titans: A Three Generation Biography of the Dumas. It's a delightful dash through the generations, but hardly complete. Our Alexandre Dumas wrote five volumes of memoirs, detailing his own life from 1802 to 1833. For a long time the only version in English of this massive autobiography was a slim selection deceptively titled My Memoirs and published by Chilton in 1961. (The whole five volumes of the memoirs in English can now be had in ugly print-on-demand paperbacks for which I still have yet to shell out.) The only modern biography of the great writer I've ever been able to locate is Claude Schopp's Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life, from 1988. Schopp is (was?) an important Dumas scholar in France, so maybe his book is better in French? In English it isn't frankly very good. Schopp's book is not much of a literary biography -- think Graham Robb's magnificent biography of Victor Hugo, or Edgar Johnson's double-deckers on Walter Scott and Charles Dickens -- barely mentioning most of the work that made Dumas immortal. At least in English, Schopp somehow manages to make even the most thrilling anecdote dull, if he finds the time to tell such stories at all between reviews of Dumas' bookkeeping, which -- surprise! -- was never good. I wish there was a contemporary biographer to recommend, considering the renewed interest in the life of Dumas as not only the most popular French novelist in history but also as a man of color. Maybe some day soon.*

*As for Dumas himself on race and racism, to my knowledge he addressed the subject at any length only once, in an earlier novel titled Georges, published two years before The Count of Monte Cristo and containing many of the same plot elements, but with a light-skinned black protagonist. There was a lovely new translation of this by Tina Kovar and published by The Modern Library. Well worth finding and reading.

University Book Store Presents Brad Craft Reading Cat Stories

Monday, October 18, 2021

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Snowball's Chance


I remember more dogs, if I'm honest. No dog is anonymous for long. They make their own introductions. Glad-handers, boosters, wrestlers, and even bullies some of them. Happy to meet you or threaten to eat you -- that was every dog at the edge of every property and at the end of every country drive where I grew up. Couldn't miss the dogs. So in that bucolic landscape there may well have been as many cats as there were dogs, but not as I remember. For all I know there may have been more cats than dogs, out there in the woods, for instance. Not being so noisy and forward, cats might go unnoticed, unheard and unseen. Dogs tended to come right up at you, out of their houses and across the yards before you knew it. A dog, even a three legged dog like the one down the road, could run out the length of a chain or up to the top of a fence and announce themselves before a boy on a bike could swerve back into traffic, such as it was then. Impossible to miss knowing most dogs, even the old ones. In the country dogs would chase you, as would geese, but I can honestly say I was never actively pursued by a cat. Cats sat quietly in high windows, walked the beams in barns, appeared and disappeared from the woods, and wandered at will through dairies and haylofts. As a boy, our indifference was largely mutual. A dog was a friend or a threat. Cats just were.

The animals I knew then were rarely house-pets. Nearly all were party to an older and more practical compact with humans; tenantry for lack of a better word. Animals were housed and fed and in return many if not most of them worked or, it must be said, eventually got eaten. Dogs guarded junkyards, hunted, raced, babysat, herded, chased away missionaries and the tinkers who offered to tar the driveway. Cats lived in barns and patrolled basements and storage sheds and slept under porches. They killed rats and mice and moles, and sadly birds. Many of the cats in my acquaintance were all but feral; not altogether unfriendly -- in principle -- but you did not pet a barn cat unless she asked you. We had a barn, and a chicken coop, and so we had cats. (And a quick note to all you new urban chicken enthusiasts: rats love eggs more than you love an IPA with your vegetarian empanadas so... good luck with that.)

Of all the working cats I knew there was only one who could be said to have retired. Retirement was not unknown on my father's few acres. We were not farmers. Had animals nonetheless. Here a blind horse, there a lame pony, an orphaned raccoon, the place was usually more rest-home than workplace. I knew people who bred dogs, raised hogs, kept cows. I never knew anyone to buy a cat. Kittens, discovered or captured, tended to be put out in boxes labeled "Free Kittens" by the side of the road. (There were old farmers known to drown any kittens they found. Of this custom no child approved.) Cats being by far the least likely to stick around, fewer of them acquired names, despite the mania of children to name everything that moved.  There was more than one cat we claimed as ours and named, but few of these relationships lasted. We lived too near the Interstate highway, for one. For another, cats tended to come around or not just as they pleased. One stayed. We named her Snowball. 

She was a white cat. Simple as that. Animals didn't often have human names in those days, Garfield and Morris being pretty recent arrivals on the media scene and thought comical precisely because they had names like great-uncles. Dogs had names like Tuffy and Belle. All white cat? Snowball. 

She was never a kitten as I remember, though obviously she must have been at some point before I met her. Snowball was, for want of a better word, always a lady. Another grim reality of country life in those days was that townspeople when moving, or tired of feeding the thing, or presumably just bored or displeased in some way with a family pet, seemed to have no compunction about driving a few miles out and dumping the animal by the side of the road. Probably how Snowball arrived in London Village, where we were, still are some of us, and had been for a very long time. (This was I don't doubt the origin of that middle class myth about some beloved companion having gone to live on a farm.) From her imperious demeanor and somewhat presumptuous claim to shelter and food, one could assume that Snowball had started life in a higher station. She clearly felt she had come down in the world when she found us. 

She would never come inside the house uninvited. That would have been rude. Officially and for quite some time, the lady was a visitor, just paying a call. She came no further than the porch. Perhaps hard experience had already taught her that there was too much potential for disappointment in getting too close to humans. Yes, she was glad of a drink. And a meal? Well, not to put anyone out, but she was feeling rather peckish at that, now you mention it. Not to be thought a sponger, she not infrequently brought a mole or a baby bird as her contribution to the family repast. Eventually she had her own dinner service waiting on the porch. What she didn't eat was allowed for the visiting strays and or an occasional raccoon, though clearly that old pillow from the glider was hers, thank you very much, whether she happened to be napping on it or no. 

And then came the great day. We did not recognize it as such at the time. The lady was getting on. She still hunted a bit, as the mood took her, and she never gave up the rather heartbreaking habit of stealing kittens she clearly couldn't nurse from their mothers, but she just as clearly had begun to really feel the cold. That enclosed porch ceased to be simply a stop on her regular progress and became, to all intents and purposes, home. My mother, herself a girl from town and not known to be quite so sentimental about animals as my father, may have been the first to notice Snowball's decline. When it became obvious that the lady intended to stay it may well have been my mother who suggested Snowball might need something more suitable than an old cushion to call her own.

Dad built doghouses of notorious solidity. Like nearly everything he did in the way of carpentry, he worked with the materials he had to hand: scrap metal, lumber heavy and light, odd lengths of insolation, clipped roof shingles. The results were frankly impressive. Other than size and the absence of plumbing and windows the resulting cabins might have comfortably accommodated a family of unusually small pioneers. Dad's doghouses were so heavy he usually had to haul them into place mechanically. Don't know that anyone could have just lifted them. The size varied according to the dog, from bloodhound to beagle, but there wasn't one ever overturned in a storm. The roofing could come off our house, but the dogs? Slept right through the worst of it on fresh straw.

So it was that my father came to build his first and only cat house. No doubt the scale initially was a problem. Can only cut a two by four but so small. He worked it out. The result was just right and probably weighed six times the weight of it's occupant. He installed it on the enclosed porch in Snowball's usual spot and put her beloved cushion inside. She dragged the cushion back out. Safe to say she was not altogether pleased by the new arrangement. Cushion went back in. Cushion came back out.  Seemed the new digs were not to the lady's liking. Dad's cat housing project was a failure.

Then it got really cold. No idea how long it was before Snowball deigned to sleep in her own house. Don't know if we even noticed at first. But once she was in, she stayed and by the following Spring it had become official. The lady was retired, thank you very much. Ensconced in her tiny palace, she now expected her meals in a regular and timely fashion. One might feed any of her occasional friends when and where one pleased, but the lady's meals needed to be ready when she was or the staff would hear about it. Any overnight guests needn't think they were welcome to stay. Out. Bag and baggage. The porch was public, the cat house was hers. 

If the day was nice and she felt up to it, there might be a nice walk around the grounds. In the summer she was still delighted by the prospect of June bugs and moths drawn to the porch light. On an exceptionally cold winter day, she might even be induced to come into our house to get warm, but she did not live there. She had, she need hardly remind us, a house of her own.

Remembering that she was an adult when we met, I cannot accurately estimate her age. She lived a very long time after her retirement, so her years must have been considerable. She grew increasingly impatient of rivals as she went on and liked company less and less, even ours. For children she eventually had no patience at all and would growl from within her house at even the hint of a baby's cry or a child's laugh. Her appetite never slackened until very near her end so she became rather fat. She lost teeth and may well have been more than a little blind, the gold in her eyes growing dim and the blue milkier. Appearance remained important to her and she was never less than impeccably clean in her person, though it must be said she was never much of a housekeeper and rejected any effort to replace her favorite cushion which eventually grew black with age, though she did at some point allow for the addition of a baby blanket to her decor. Like many an elderly person, she came to welcome affection but seemed to have no special need of it, then and always content within herself and to watch the world in small from her vantage on the porch.

I was already away from home when Snowball's long retirement drew to it's natural end. My parents could not bear the sight of that empty cat house, or think of allowing a new tenant. I suspect my Dad burned it, though I don't know that he did. There was never another on the porch.

To say that such a personage was ever a pet would be to demean what was a model of civilized coexistence. Snowball lived with us. Offered hospitality, she accepted, eventually and very much on her own terms. In a fairly brutal environment, she saw an opportunity and took it. Eventually she made what was an unprecedented choice to retire and picked her spot. Call it, Snowball's chance. Damned if we didn't all go along with it too. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

In Defense of Big Fat Books


Americans have always liked our books big and largely unread. The Holy Bible, once and still the subject of serious study in many American homes, had a second life as heirloom, birth-record, and for generations held pride of place as parlor furnishing in the weighty incarnation of the family Bible; notes, under-linings, tabs, and markers being kept to the more portable Testaments suitable for carrying to Sunday school. Likewise our history when it came to be written, if still somewhat slight in the full record of human struggle and achievement, was thought to require the full dignity of such massy works as Irving's five volume life of George Washington and the six of Sandburg's dithyramb on Lincoln. I've met a few who've read the whole of the latter, but none who've ever managed the first.

Perhaps no enterprise in the history of our literature spent ink and wasted paper like the waging of The Great American Novel. Turns out? The contest was won in 1851 with Melville's Moby Dick, but nobody knew that for almost one hundred years. And so generations of big boys kept making big books from Dreiser to Wolfe to Faulkner to Steinbeck, Pynchon to Gaddis to DeLillo to Foster Wallace... and on it goes. You want to play with the big boys, it seems you need a big book. Nothing wrong with that in principle I suppose, though it would seem some folks mistook tonnage for Tolstoy, windy for weighty, and big for substantial. Ayn Rand at length is still, alas, Ayn Rand. Big isn't bad, but it ain't always good.

Genre writers have become perhaps the worst offenders in this. Dear as it is to his many fans, Stephen King's The Stand is basically a rather bland Stephen King novel wrapped in at least three more Stephen King novels, Taco Bell style. Science Fiction, and supremely Fantasy fiction now comes in cases, like law books, or milk jugs. It used to take a trilogy to build a universe. Now that's called "a good start." 

And when American publishers have the chance to reprint the collected anyone or anything, unlike our European cousins who like slim, uniform volumes, we will have it all in one ungainly lump, thank you. Jane Austen wrote novels of nearly perfect proportion to her subjects. In America we want one fat, pink, faux leather Jane. Complete is better than collected which is better than selected which is much to be preferred to any intention the writer may have had. Poets? Letters? Art? Why not one big, much annotated, not-to be-lifted-let-alone-read book? Norton anthologies, am I right? For that matter, Norton Critical editions of even the slimmest works. The Holy Torah has less accumulated commentary.

All that said, I love a big fat book. Why? Well, I'm glad you asked -- and yes, someone actually did ask me today, honest.

Here's the funny thing. A whole generation read one of the longest books in the English language. The canonical Harry Potter story collectively runs to 4,224 pages. The complete A Remembrance of Things Past clocks just shy of that at 4,215. I only read bits of the first Potter book, just to see what all the fuss was about. Exciting, but not for me. I was too old to be part of that phenomenon. Had I been nine when that first one came out... you bet. I have read Proust's novel, and parts of it twice. I feel safe in saying that a large part of the pleasure in either book is in the span of the work. All those pages? That's the point. 

When I was kid in the seventies there was a brand new thing on television called the "mini series." These were invariable adapted from long, popular novels by the likes of Taylor Caldwell, Irwin Shaw, James Michener, James Clavell, and most famously, Alex Haley. This was "event viewing" of the first order. Nowadays there are "binge-worthy" series on various platforms and most of these seem to come not so much from books as from police files, but even now the better ones often started out as novels like The Queen's Gambit and American Rust. The whole business of binging requires a pretty substantial commitment of time, if admittedly in a far more passive way than a big book, but the commitment is there nonetheless. During the worst of the pandemic, like everybody else who could afford to do so, I watched a lot of these things and enjoyed them -- though not a few might have benefited from a better acquaintance with good books, or at least better ones -- says snobby ol' print man. Sniff. 

The point being that lots of people are still willing to commit a lot of time to sustained narratives, even if not everyone thinks of this as anything at all like reading a big book. 

I do see how books, good books, big fat books both classic and contemporary, can be a complicated undertaking for most readers. We may have lost, most of us, the habit of reading in a sustained way one book across many, many days, weeks, or months. It does require a certain discipline to read in this way, however enjoyable the experience. The world is full of distraction. My house is full of books. The light must be right. Most of us require quiet, etc. And look! A cat is playing the harmonica on my phone! I would argue that reading can be a place of safety from distraction, and never more so than when we are reading a very long book. The best thing about Combray is going back there, yes?

Consider also the weight of our educational experience good or bad. We all remember reading as an assignment and often a chore. The great benefit of a classroom can and ought to be having someone to guide our reading. Certainly anyone who has experienced secondary education will remember that not every guide was good at this. Even when they were good at it, time was not always the friend of instruction. Please have Pamela read by this Tuesday. And then there were those awful tests. Many a great book has foundered in the shallows of exams. If all our great love affairs ended in a grueling examination and a pass or fail grade, it would be perfectly understandable if we learned to prefer the one night stand; short stories to Victorian novels, the pithy memoir to Boswell's Life of Johnson. Too often this is all we remember of  Lit classes: the plot, the theme, the test and the grind. 

We may forget if we ever knew, but the satisfaction of a big book is in the freedom it offers both its author and his or her readers. The end is not always in sight. The trip is long. Plenty to see. The subject is seldom a single thing. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That is perhaps the most famous opening line in literature, and it is true so far as it goes. And how far is that? Well, it took Tolstoy 864 pages to tell Anna Karenina. I don't think anyone who's read the book thinks that that famous line either sums up the novel or even states Tolstoy's intentions. That sentence is the point from which we -- the writer and his reader -- set out. He isn't trying to prove his assertion, or even support an argument, he's starting a conversation, and we have all the time in the world. Not only is it an interesting invitation, and an excellent story, what makes the journey worthwhile ultimately is that Tolstoy is excellent company -- or he was at least before he started praying all day, bless 'im. 

Some very modest people have written some very interesting books.  There's every reason to read Robert Walser, or Fleur Jaeggy, but there's probably an excellent reason to think that the books they've written are exactly the size they should be. I assume Walser was a very nice man. I'd bet Fleur is a perfectly charming person. I would not however be terribly confident inviting either to a party. Meanwhile, I can't think of one book of more than say six hundred pages worth reading that was ever written by a dull person. I would rather have dinner with Balzac, or drinks with Dickens, pass an evening at Johnson's club, or spend the weekend at Montaigne's. None of those dead gentlemen had an untroubled soul and lord knows Dickens for example was a shit to his wife, but just think of the conversation, the talk, the going on! And so it is that I don't want all my books to be careful, exquisite, tightly made. It takes almost a kind of courage to sit down next to such a big man as Dumas, or to brave the company of Alfred Doblin or Jaroslav Hasek, all of them men of imperfect manners, large appetites, roaring, funny -- at least on the page -- and yes, profound.

And such crowds they bring with them! Big books can accommodate many characters, most of whom would never fit into a more compact vehicle. The multiplicity of the human experience is ultimately the premise of most big books. Think of that mob of Duchesses in the salons of Proust, the throng on the streets of Dickens' London and Hugo's Paris. Even Boswell's Doctor Johnson is seldom alone. The delight for the reader in such a multitude is that we needn't bring a thing to the party. Our host has arranged everything. We will meet all the right people. We will be seated by the best gossips, have the best view of the dance, stay safely in our carriage to watch the battle.

More. In a big fat book we are asked to observe whole societies, witness the sweep of history, plumb the depths and exhilarate in the triumphs of people about whom we have already been made to care. Even reading through Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, while it is not always easy to care very much about the sorry fate of this or that emperor, or the collapse of this or that once noble people, the writer, being so good a writer makes sure we see people in the burning churches, men and women in the moving hordes. The historian's purpose is to preserve and translate a vast expanse of history. The writer wants not just to instruct but to please us. And in the great novelists, however didactic they may intend to be the urge to show emotion, to move us, to make us laugh, to be human in the readers' company is unrestrained by history, much as most of them love it and use it to ground their stories in time.

Time is the impetus of every long book and its subject, and if it is worth reading time is the justification of the effort, the writer's and the readers'. What a rare thing it is in this hectic, over-stimulated, and anxiety-ridden period to be offered the luxury of time! We mustn't be put off by the breadth of the thing, by the distance to the horizon. We are constantly being told by fatuous sloganeers that the journey is the destination, that we must stop to smell the roses, etc. All we are actually being sold in such packaged candies is complacency and patience with our lowly lot in capitalism in a burning world. Time spent in a big book may be one of the better ways to really appreciate how humanity moves through time, how the individual may suit the times or not, may effect the times or be destroyed, may triumph or withdraw. Big fat books serve us more than one meal and help us to avoid the sticky sweet certainties of received wisdom, cliche, and control. Big books teach us how much we may have in common not only with their heroines but also with the villains. It is only in a big fat book that we learn the real value of so called minor characters. All great literature is thorough within its parameters. But a big fat book, a great novel of a thousand pages, a biography, history, an epic, while these forms may not be entirely of our time, they are still being written and still being read. Why? Because we still need stories bigger than the ones we know, bigger perhaps than our own, and we need to take the time to read them. It is time the readers reclaimed our time, no?

That in mind, I'm of a mind to start a new book club, Call it Brad's Big Fat Book Club. The idea being that a space is needed in which my friends and I and any strangers interested might read such books together in the time it takes. Circumstances necessitate that the space would be virtual for now and perhaps even when we again have other options as not everyone wants to take a bus in the evening if there isn't at least a burrito at the end of the trip (and by "not everyone" I of course mean me.) 

I have been in book clubs before and my experience has been at best mixed. I ran a few meeting myself and was not a great success. I am not a serious critic, a particularly close reader or student, and I am no kind of a teacher. I gab. I talk off point. I can be intolerant of the dismissive and the dim. I do not care generally what one's grandma always used to say on a given subject and I heartily dislike anyone whose only response to something I've said is, "Tell us what you really think, Brad." (Get out. And don't come back.) 

I've been in the company of a great book club host and discussion facilitator in the person of my dear friend and fellow bookseller Nick DiMartino. He was everything I was not and the man knows exactly how to ask a leading question. He never pontificated. He is genuinely, wildly curious. He is a dear. 

I can't guarantee that I can be anything like the amazing Mr. Dimartino. But I will try my best.

My only agenda is to read good books and big ones at that in the company of others. We might do it anyway by ourselves, but company can be nice, no?

Consider this an invitation.