Even as I acknowledge the gifts of rereading, I discount myself. What a dolt I am to keep returning to the same predictable tales—Nicholas Nickleby and Persuasion and Barchester Towers and their staid cohort. Get with the times; read the new books; surely a story must wear itself out eventually. And I’m not alone in self-deprecation: even Coleridge, even Samuel Johnson seemed embarrassed by their lifelong pleasure in certain books. According to Bishop Percy,
when a boy [Johnson] was immoderately fond of reading romances of chivalry, and he retained his fondness for them through life, so that . . . spending part of a summer at my parsonage-house in the country [this was when Johnson was fifty-four] he chose for his regular reading the old Spanish romance of Felixmarte of Hircania, in folio, which he read through. Yet I have heard him attribute to these extravagant fictions, that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever fixing in any profession.
Oh, I could make the same claim for my own scrappy, indefinite career. But just the same, I find myself, in a half-idle hour, propped over Dr. Johnson’s well-thumbed biography, imagining him, porpoise-like in his garden chair, balancing that folio on his knee. A robin hops over the sheep-cropped grass; a squirrel shrills in the hedgerow. The doctor lifts his eyes to the band of sunlight trimming the portico. He sighs. He drops his tired eyes back to the story, the same old story, blundering down its dear familiar road.
And then a line leaps forth, and it speaks to him.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Quick notes about unfinished business
1. I started copying out a poem by Robert Browning. The title is "Any Wife to Any Husband." Pretty great title, huh? I can't wait to find out what the universal wife will say.
2. During yesterday's Harmony Elementary School basketball game, Paul made the first basket of his career, and it was a three-pointer. I was not there to witness it. Clearly I am a sports-mother manqué. And why does this note also have a strange extra line space?
3. Oh well.
4. Here's a bit from the intro to the new rereading ms. The quotation is from W. Jackson Bate's biography of Samuel Johnson: