Wednesday, November 27, 2013
no thank you
Meditations on thankfulness abound this week, as usual, and I hesitate to risk adding to the heap of platitudes floating around out there. But I am still recovering from a cold, my family is scattered hither and yon, and so I will be staying in this Thanksgiving. I feel very grateful to be able to remain quietly at home. And I don't mind saying so. No travel, no cooking besides that which we do for ourselves (oh, but there will be pie, make no mistake), no shopping, no interaction with beloved relatives fractious and otherwise. I think on so-called black Friday I will stay in and read, and snack (again with the pie). I am beyond grateful to have time to do this in my very own life.
Which reminds me of one more bit from E.M. Forster's Commonplace Book, written after he'd taken a few pages of notes from Dryden's Epistles (p.27):
"Reading these Epistles which have no connection with my work and little with my ideas, have (sic) given me a happy sense of my own leisure. Who has the necessary time and vacancy of mind to read Dryden's Epistles for pleasure in 1927? or to copy out extracts from them into a Commonplace Book? Or to write out more often than is necessary the words: Dryden, Epistles, Dryden's Epistles? No one but me and perhaps Siegfried Sassoon."
Who has the time in 2013 to do likewise? Well, I copied this passage into my own journal, and I copy it here too - as a small banner waving, as a symbol of the pleasure of reading for its own sake, as a reminder to take time to do whatever your heart desires, if you possibly can. Speaking of E.M. Forster again, I thought of asking Santa for his recently published Journals and Diaries (Pickering & Chatto 2011). I am still searching for something all-encompassing for my winter reading project, and thought this might be it, but holy crackers, at nearly $500 retail for the three-volume set, I must say no thank you.
Which brings me to my only scrap of holiday advice this year: don't forget to say no, when you need to. The sky will not fall. Blessings on you, whether you are at home or far afield.
Monday, November 25, 2013
what books do to us
A brief bit from the aforementioned Commonplace Book of E.M. Forster, edited by Philip Gardner (Stanford 1985) - a collection of quotations from his reading, thoughts about his work, notations on everything and everyone under the sun. Including this, from 1932 (p.93):
"I have to read a book at a certain rate and cannot look backwards or on. One of the pages turns out to be gold. I come to it with surprise joy and terror, and know it must be turned over like the others. How lovely if the next page could be The End."
No mention of what book he was reading at the time. But oh the shock of recognition, despite that!
Friday, November 22, 2013
In reading, as in life, it is a wonderful thing. I've been shipwrecked at home with a cold this week, and so revisited some beloved comfort reading, two of my desert island books. Sitting under a comforter in a patch of sun, with a cup of tea, a box of tissues, a heap of cough drops, and a dozing cat - well, add a few particular books and I was deeply happy, in spite of feeling terrible. First, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. The ultimate getaway novel - how to transform the unspeakably dreary by renting a Mediterranean castle in springtime! Then, in keeping with the vein of elsewhere (yes, more Italy, please, not November in bleak old Maine), A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Read and re-read, this must be the fifth time I've gone through both of these novels in my lifetime, and I hope not the last. They are books for dreaming on, for seeing through the veil of the everyday. They are books about taking a stand for happiness, after awakening to its possibilities in the first place. It was wonderful to be able to read both from cover to cover, in two successive afternoons. My life is not exactly busy, but it seems to be that the only time I allow myself to read that way anymore is when I am under the weather, and unable (or at least unwilling) to do the thousand and one tasks most days require. Perhaps I should set aside one day a week just for reading marathons. Sunday afternoons...?
But back to serendipity. After finishing A Room with a View I wandered into the book room looking for what should naturally come next. Like a happy child, thinking More, please. I picked up two E.M. Forster books (that I've had for years and yet never read), thinking they would be perfect browsing to finish off the evening with. One is his Commonplace Book edited by Philip Gardner (Stanford 1985) and the other his Selected Letters Volume One 1879-1920 edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank (Harvard 1983). After looking them both over I started with the letters, since he didn't begin keeping his commonplace book until 1925 and I feel that chronology should be respected whenever possible. Well, the letters are wonderful indeed, and I soon found out something I may have known once upon a time but had forgotten - that for several months in 1905 the young E.M. Forster was a tutor for Elizabeth von Arnim's children, at her schloss Nassenheide (then in Germany, now in Poland). I blissed out, at not only this serendipitous reading experience - picking a book on a whim and finding it linking so firmly the two books I'd just finished reading on more two more whims - but also at the glimpses behind the scenes, at it were. Forster recorded his experiences and opinions in chatty letters home to his mother, right at the time when his own first novel (Where Angels Fear to Tread) was being accepted by a publisher back in England. He writes of Elizabeth as a near-celebrity, or at least as a known person, and brings her down to earth gently yet firmly. I love hearing her vacillating opinion of his novel, in a letter to his mother from July of 1905 (p.81):
"My proofs are arriving at last. E. is very funny over it. She read ch. 1-3, and said it was very clever, but most unattractive, and she felt as if she wanted a bath. Then she read ch. 4, and said it was really beautiful, and she wanted to retract. Now she has read ch 6 - you wouldn't remember, but it was the one that you rather liked - and has gone back to her original opinion."
I also love Forster's adoption of Elizabeth's phrase The Man of Wrath, used in many of his letters to refer to Elizabeth's husband the Count, just as she herself does throughout her autobiographical Elizabeth and Her German Garden series. He doesn't spend much time with Elizabeth, however, and so, besides containing the pleasure of reading about two favorite authors at the very same time, his letters go on to become utterly compelling for many other reasons. His writing, his turns of phrase, his friends, his opinions about his own reading, his homosexuality, his travels in Italy and India, and his years in Alexandria during the first world war, well, it's all fascinating, and let's just say that this turned into so much more than merely a browsing book. I now must find a copy of Volume Two, and see where it leads me.