Monday, August 31, 2015

The Archaeology of Reading

I can not imagine ever not being a reader. Some people might invest their identity into a career, or a specific sport fandom. For me, it's always been books. Books aren't just a way of adding to one's identity the same way someone might build an addition onto a house. They're a way of uncovering aspects of one's character, or verbalizing unconscious thoughts, that already existed. Reading is a sort of excavation of identity.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

The House-top

A Night Piece
Battle Pieces: Civil War Poems by Herman Melville, July 1863.

No sleep. The sultriness pervades the air
And binds the brain--a dense oppression, such
As tawny tigers feel in matted shades,
Vexing their blood and making apt for ravage.
Beneath the stars the roofy desert spreads
Vacant as Libya.  All is hushed near by.
Yet fitfully from far breaks a mixed surf
Of muffled sound, the Atheist roar of riot.
Yonder, where parching Sirius set in drought,
Balefully glares red Arson--there--and there.
The Town is taken by its rats--ship-rats
And rats of the wharves.  All civil charms
And priestly spells which late held hearts in awe--
Fear-bound, subjected to a better sway
Than sway of self; these like a dream dissolve,
And man rebounds whole aeons back in nature.
Hail tot he low dull rumble, dull and dead,
And ponderous drag that shakes the wall.
Wise Draco comes, deep in the midnight roll
Of black artillery; he comes, though late;
In code corroborating Calvin's creed
And cynic tyrannies of honest kings;
He comes, nor parlies, and the Town, redeemed,
Gives thanks devout; nor, being thankful, heeds
The grimy slur on the Republic's faith implied,
Which holds that Man is naturally good,
And--more--is Nature's Roman, never to be scourged.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain: A Review

It is both a part of Mark Twain’s charm and a part of his unreliability as a narrator that one is never quite sure whether he is telling the truth.  I first came across this conundrum whilst reading Life on the Mississippi, which is supposedly a partial autobiography, partial history, partial travelogue based on Twain’s experiences as a Mississippi riverboat pilot and traveler.

I came across it again more recently—and more palpably—in A Tramp Abroad.  This book, which I later found out is an unofficial sequel to The Innocents Abroad (which I haven’t read yet), is about how Twain and a friend named Harris set out to travel Europe—a bit of France and Italy, but mostly Germany and the Alps—on foot.  Basically their goal was to do what young adults and college students do when they “backpack” across Europe.  Which I suppose makes Twain a purposeful hobo or an accidental hipster.

This book is no Rick Steves.  In fact, Twain constantly contradicts the tourist authority of the time, his Baedeker guide, on details such as how long it takes to travel roads (Baedekers apparently don’t take into account that the speed of travel might be much slower on foot).  And while Twain might touch on the usual touristy topics of attending German Opera, hiring guides, visiting hotels, and viewing art, he does it in his own characteristic way, a blend of sarcasm, exaggeration, and Blatant Lies. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Five Stages of Grief Caused By An Awful, Anachronistic Book Cover

My sister saw them first.  We were at the used library book sale that we always go to, every year. We even have our own place where we gloat over sort out our finds before we go to the checkout table.  

I didn't see them because I not only have read all the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, I used to have the complete set.  Later in the sad time of weeding my collection, I got rid of all but the first volume.  Because, let's face it, charming as all Montgomery's books are, the Anne books get increasingly fillerific as one progresses through the series, in a case of "Author Is Sick of Characters But Needs Money From Popular Franchise."

So I didn't see these monstrosities of covers because I didn't even see the spines.  I wasn't looking to buy any Montgomery novels, and was far too distracted by the five matching volumes of Ogden Nash poetry I found at the same table. 

It was the Vintage table, the very table I always make a beeline for when I'm fresh-out-the-gate at a booksale.  And while these covers are "vintage"...well, I feel like someone's definition of "vintage" is vastly different from mine.

Witness, if you will, Anne of Green Gables: The Sixties Update of the Beloved Novels, Set in Edwardian-World War I Canada.

1. Denial
Surely this cover is period-accurate, when you really think about it.  I mean, my hair is up in in a bun and everything.  And I have a high collar.  Look at the tucks in the bodice!  That's gotta be Edwardian, right?  Maybe the collar is a little...ah...wide, but maybe Anne goes as wild for wide collars as she does for puffed sleeves!  Or maybe Marilla can REALLY not sew.  There are tons of possibilities!

2. Anger
Who are you to judge my wispy hair and weird knit blouse?  Are you on the cover of this book?  No!  I'm just the model, people!  You don't know me or my life. I need the money to buy books, and if i have to pose for a few anachronistic photos to do it, so help me I WILL.  And if you don't like it, I will take you down in the back alley of Barnes and Noble.

3. Bargaining

How about this?  As you can tell from photo #5, these books were originally $5.95.  Now you can get them for a dollar a piece.  Actually far less, practically free, considering this is a bag sale that is $10 a bag, and we both know you're already three fourth's of a Piggly Wiggly bag full anyway.  What's to stop you from just slipping a few of these beautiful volumes in?  After all, they are hardcover!  You can't get any Anne books in hardcover in stores anymore.  And if you could, they'd be like $35 dollars a pop.

4. Depression

You're right.  I am scum.  I am the sweat of a pig.  I am sorry forever.

5. Acceptance

You know what?  Who cares if I'm not even a flaming redhead?  God gave me this hair, and I am going to ROCK it in bangs and a ponytail. I also have this spankin' cobalt blue turtleneck that Marilla totally couldn't have knitted for me, and BANG I also got a new purse.  Haters gonna hate.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Three Steps to Impressing People with Your Reading Prowess

Alas and alack, reading seems to have become a lost art, drowned out by more Informative things like the internet, and by more Entertaining things like television.  People assume that if a person likes to read, said person is academically-minded.  So, since they’re going to be impressed by the fact that you are reading anyway, let’s take it a step further:

First, choose a book that is a classic.  Yes, everyone knows of Frankenstein or Winnie the Pooh.  But few have actually read the books that share the characters’ names.  What’s the use of reading The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas if nobody knows you’re reading an awesome espionage book by the author of The Three Musketeers?  Not very effective in astounding passersby with your magnificent literacy, is it?  No, better not to discover forgotten treasures, or at least read them in private.  When reading in public, find something more hum-drum or popular. 

Second, sometimes you might be able to find an Annotated or Fully Illustrated edition.  This causes what might have been a short children’s paperback novel to become a large, thick, hefty hardcover not to be trifled with.  I’m thinking in particular of copies of Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth.  

Third, choose a book that has a lot of academic journaling to it.  When a book is a classic, it invariably will have lots of stodgy professors writing boring essays about it.  These essays, forwards, introductions, afterwards, commentaries, appendices, et al, are included at the front, back, and the footnotes of any self-respecting classic book, and will multiply the pages.  Not only will this make it look to the innocent standersby that you are reading a book much longer than you actually are, if you skip these mostly superfluous commentaries you will seem to be reading at a break-neck pace, further impressing onlookers.   Shakespearean plays are especially good for this purpose.  I once had a copy of The Taming of the Shrew where half of the book was introduction and afterward, and even once I got into the text of the play half of the pages were comprised of footnotes.