These days, making friends outside of some social network seems like an impossible task to people of a certain generation and beyond. It’s just the changing times. However, one way to make sure that a friendship has no online ties is for it to happen with an animal. Since, as yet, they don’t use the Internet. Although science is trying to address that little oversight.
A West Virginia woman made friends with a mother raccoon searching for food for her babies. Proving a reliable food source, her home has become something of a second home to a family of raccoons (well, around three) and she recently published featuring photos and anecdotes about her new animal friends. Proving to do things especially old school, there isn’t even an e-book format for it.
Now that I’ve got a new job and a new home (although something of a transient one) I decided to solidify my residency (besides the usual vehicle registration/driver’s license/voting things) by getting that oft-neglected of public privileges: a library card! I promptly borrowed a book, but not in the traditional manner. No no, I stepped into the future (of today) and borrowed a book digitally. The process was surprisingly seamless, thanks to Amazon’s partnership and the fact that I own a Kindle. I felt so high tech and stuff, and it’s always good to cut down on handling big old, smelly books. Actually, libraries make a lot of sense since I never re-read a book anyway and have gone through tons of effort to discard the tons of books I’ve accumulated over the years. There were just a couple of hiccups with the process:
The list of books available to borrow is embarrassingly lousy. It’s kind of like looking through the list of discounted (and free) non-public domain titles available through Amazon; tons of stuff from fly-by-night publishers and authors you’ve never heard of and probably suck.
In the olden days, you had to keep track of when the books were due or else incur the late return fee (a staggering 25¢/day at the New York Public Library!) Now I get a nifty reminder from Amazon that the book will be automatically withdrawn from my Kindle in a couple of days. This had the added benefit of stressing me out just enough to finish reading the damn thing. So, nice that I’ll avoid any fees but lousy to have my e-mail nagging me.
I read Homer’s The Odyssey (sequel to The Iliad) as translated by Alexander Pope. This isn’t the sort of thing one normally reads unless it’s been assigned to them for class (which never happened to me.) I felt compelled to experience this classic work of fiction because every time I’ve complained about the use (and abuse) of in media res openings in many TV shows and movies these days there would invariably be some pseudo-intellectual who would bring up the fact that the classic, The Odyssey, employed this convention. I never understood their reason for pointing out such a fact; because they were unwilling (or unable) to expand on their argument–and it was always made in argument to my complaint–I’m forced to conclude they were insisting that because it was used in The Odyssey, a classic, all uses of it must be a classic. Or they were so eager to interject a factoid they knew that was related that they didn’t care if it actually affected the discussion.
After reading this massive poem (and I was surprised to find it was a poem; I’d always known it was described as an epic poem but I thought it was a poem along the lines of Shakespeare’s poetry which didn’t rhyme most of the time but was based on rhythm) I am forced to conclude that I have no idea what I read. Really. Hundred’s of pages and I couldn’t begin to tell you what happened. The only reason I had any semblance of an understanding of the plot was because at the beginning of each section there was a paragraph synopsis of what was about to happen. Otherwise the whole thing was just a meaningless jumble of words. Something about the poetic structure prevented me from grasping who the characters were (barely referred to by name) or what they were doing. The last time this happened was when I read The Shapes of Their Hearts by Melissa Scott, which ended up being so engaging that I read it quickly, but could barely remember any of the characters or cared about what they were doing.
Maybe I just didn’t care about The Odyssey? That can’t be possible: it’s a classic!
One of the few benefits of being terminally unemployed is the copious amount of free time I have to read through my backlog of books. Lately I’ve been focusing on reading (or maybe re-reading, I really can’t remember) books that I had purchased for my college curriculum and were, for one reason or another, still in my possession. Back then, I either sold them back to the book dealers or threw them away (people will insist that you absolutely shouldn’t part with old college text books because “you never know when you’ll need them again,” speaking as an accountant I can assure this has never been the case; cut down on the clutter and get rid of those things once you’ve graduated.) I was a little surprised when I picked up The Machine that Changed the World, by James Womack–which was surely bought for a management class along with The Book of Five Rings and The Art of War because ZOMG how MIND BLOWING is it to use old combat strategy books for BUSINESS?! THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!!–and noticed something tucked in about halfway through the book (page 160-161, to be exact.) It was a small (6″ x 4.75″) print of The Larder by Antonio Maria Vassallo.
I reeled at this relic of my past! Had I been reading through this book a decade ago (I don’t recall trying to read it at any point since graduating) and marked this as my last reading spot? Or had I simply tucked that print in there for safe keeping at some point? When, exactly did I buy this print?
I remember I took a Spanish Art History class to fulfill a humanities requirement (I have a couple of books leftover from that course as well, Los Caprichos and The Disasters of War by Francisco Goya.) There was exactly one piece of art I was exposed to during that class that I really liked, and that was Two Women at a Window by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (really, this piece just so perfectly captures a facial expression.) I trekked out to the National Gallery of Art to see it in person and must have bought a print of that painting along with this small Larder one. I have a tradition of using postcards of paintings I like for bookmarks (sadly, I lost my card for Alexander Archipenko‘s Woman with a Fan II, another piece of art I adore.)
Years later, while visiting my parents, I was rummaging through the closet of my former bedroom and came across a larger print of Two Women at a Window (roughly 8.5″ x 11″.) I was so thrilled to find it, having forgotten I’d ever bought it. I took it out and put it somewhere so I wouldn’t forget to bring it back with me when I returned to Jersey. Alas, that proved to be a terrible mistake, as it found its way to harm and got all crinkled up before I went home. I really need to track down a replacement for that print. Frame it up. Make it look nice.
Well, I’ll need to get a job and a place of my own again before I worry about decorating.
I recently read Holbrook Jackson’s The Fear of Books. I had bought the book over two years ago, based on the title alone (what a silly thing to do) expecting a book that would explore either a) the psychology behind bibliophobia or b) an analysis of cultural rejection of books (exemplified by Nazi book burnings.) It did cover such material, but I was confused that it was ignoring many examples I would have expected. Then I realized that this book was written in 1932. There were other things that should have tipped me off, like some of the awkward language and punctuation compared to what a contemporary writer would use.
There were two sections that struck me as being particularly emblematic of their times.
Several paragraphs into the section titled Women and the Fear of Books there is this nugget: “A woman in a library is a woman out of her frame. She brings grace, smiles, perfumes, and suchlike charms, which soften the austerity of a library with exquisite sweetness, and gentillesse exquise; but beware, she is no more to be trusted than une guenon familière, a domestic monkey. Penez garde of her whims, caprices; let he not handle precious prints, bindings, etc.: ce serait un désastre!” This comes from a book titled Les Zigzags d’un Curieux by Octave Uzanne. I can’t imagine anyone today could suggest that women were simply incapable of appreciating books because of their femininity without being raked over the coals. And I don’t even mean that figuratively.
In the next section of the book, Remedies Considered, Jackson addresses peoples’ apprehension of books stemming from the constant influx of material. This quote, from Arthur Symons, was especially amusing to me: “The invention of printing helped to destroy literature. Scribes, and memories not yet spoilt by over cramming, preserved all the literature that was worth preserving, because books that had to be remembered by heart, or copied with slow, elaborate penmanship, were not thrown away on people who did not want them, but remained in the hands of people with taste.” (From Studies in Prose and Verse) This reminds me of people who contend that e-readers are not real reading for some intangible, borderline fetishistic reason.