Friday, January 11, 2013


found in a book

When I flipped through All of Us: The Collected Poems by Raymond Carver (Vintage 2000) after picking it up at the library sale last weekend, a little note fell out.  I read it, and it says three things, presumably about the book in question, but I suppose that is open to debate:

"Great images but really incomprehensible
Why mornings a disappointment
Great things going on & we do not notice."

Whew.  Heartbreaking.  These words are written on the cut-out corner of some stationery, so it also has the name and address of the previous owner of the book, printed neatly in small caps.  His address also appears on a small label affixed inside the front cover of the book.  Perhaps I should write to him to discuss these three points.  I disagree with all three - gently but firmly - whether they are merely statements, or conclusions reached, or even just reactions to particular poems.  No, of course I will not write to him.  But don't think it didn't cross my mind  (Mornings are glorious, or should be... we do notice great things, much of the time... Carver's images are not incomprehensible...).  How differently we all react to the very same books!  What we bring of ourselves to a given page, where we meet the author, and what we engage in while we read, all so different!

Speaking of really incomprehensible, I also bought a lovely old Selected Works of Laurence Sterne at the sale, and last night before bed I read the first fifty pages of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.  Thinking that, since I already read Byron as my big winter reading project, before winter even started, I need something substantial to keep my mind engaged now that winter is truly here.  Well, this book is not it.  I tried, valiantly.  It is so rare that I begin a book and then decide not to finish it.  SO RARE.  I can't remember the last time I did that, that's how rare.  I wanted to care, I wanted to read, I wanted to understand, but my mind kept breaking in on me and saying WHAT is this jumble, WHY are we still reading, WHEN can we go to sleep, WHY WHY WHY does this book make no sense whatsoever, WHERE is the plot, WHAT is with all these bizarre tangents, and so forth.  Very hard to concentrate enough to follow sentence after sentence when one's mind is this busy.  I couldn't do it, and after fifty pages, I'm sad to say I no longer wanted to.  Does Tristram Shandy require a summer day, I wonder?  When my Vitamin D levels are much higher and subsequently my brain function is too?  Or will I find it equally frustrating no matter what the temperature?

Yes, "Great images but really incomprehensible."  Perhaps my friend of the note loves this book.  While I love the poems of Raymond Carver.  As emotionally difficult as many of them are, most are redemptive in all the best ways.  Well, in the end, both of these books were at the library sale, neither one kept as a beloved thing to revisit during winter evenings.  Until now.  You see, I also read a little bit of Sterne's Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy and was smitten.  So for the time being I'll keep them both, and wait for that summer day.  

I've read a decent chunk of Tristram Shandy and plan to finish it eventually, just so I can feel I've earned reading the last two lines. Silly reason, I know. The good thing is that I can put this aside for a few months and not worry about forgetting the plot.

I've been reading the letters of Charles Lamb and will be sorry to finish.
Dan, so nice to hear from you, that is very heartening, should I persevere...? I wonder. I *am* keeping the edition, after all, so I will say perhaps. It's a volume in The Reynard Library, published by Harvard, such a lovely series, and also includes many of Sterne's letters.

I've never read Lamb's letters, thanks for mentioning them. I will keep a weather eye out for a copy. Hope all is well with you (and your book collection).

Just read the last two lines :-)

I started Tristram because it was one of you-know-who's Golden Florins; my edition (NY Heritage Press) has Morley's Introduction. I suspect I'll pick this up every couple months and read for an evening and will never finish.

On the other hand, I do recommend Lamb's letters. I'm saving his Last Essays for when I finish the letters.
Temperature, mood, the right year (like wines); reading a book at 19 and at 39 is quite a different game.

Dear friends I read The Sentimental Journey (Dan I was looking for the same florins- in my desk now I have Benjamin Franlin Life and the essays of Elia) last year in those little Oxford volumes: what a treat.

Morley has a few lines in Human Being about good old Sent. Journ.-perhaps tomorrow I could spot them.

And finally, I have to share my joy with you kinsprits: last week I became the happy owner of Kit's 30th volume.
Sarah - I could not finish Tristam Shandy either. Now that I am entering my 70's, I am less willing to stay with a book if it has not grabbed me in the first 50 pages. So many books - so little time. Kathleen
Okay, wow, what a week! My sister had her baby, all is well, but things have been a little busy around here.

To follow up, I did hunt down and read Christopher Morley's introduction to "Tristram Shandy" - it's printed in "Prefaces Without Books" (an anthology of Morley's prefaces, selected by Herman Abromson, published Austin 1970, a GREAT book). And now, I have to say that even Morley doesn't convince me to continue. In fact, after reading his introduction, I feel even more strongly that this classic may be akin to such films as "The Three Stooges" - either you love them completely or cannot abide them. I may give it another go, but truly, it is not looking good.

Today at a secondhand book shop I found a nice old copy of "The Selected Letters of Charles Lamb" - so perhaps I will begin that soon. After finishing my re-reads of Dorothy L. Sayers. She is a life-saver, this time of year.

Thanks so much for your comments. Such a good little book club we have here, among old friends.
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