a conversation with an imaginary bookmonger

“One of our staff recommendations!  I loved it.  Are you looking forward to reading this?”

“Oh, it’s not for me.  It’s for my roommate.”

“Oh!  I see.  Well, is there anything we can tempt you with?  I see you have Backman and Bradley in your bag…”

“Eh, they’re both library books.  I tend to prefer the library, actually.”

“Any particular reason why?  It’s not just about the price, I hope.”

“No, well – okay, the price IS right at a library.  It’s more that – I’m a bit of a hoarder.  I – I know there are some people who say It’s not hoarding if it’s books, and they aren’t wrong.  But.  I do hoard other things.  I hang on to notes from the college I graduated from 7 years ago.  Hang onto stuff for scrapbooks and materials for art projects.  I hoard all my good intentions and very rarely actually get around to making my dreams realities.”

“So you don’t want books to be part of your stuff.”

“No – well, books are part of my stuff.  A few hundred of them.  I just – look, it’s not just about money, and it’s not just about space.  It’s about deadlines.  Someone else eventually wants the library book back, and so I can live there for a while and capture those phrases and ideas.  And maybe they’ll escape from my head eventually, but maybe in that amount of time, they’ll transform me.  If they’re mine to read, they’re also mine to ignore.  If absolutely nothing else – if I check out a book and ignore it completely until someone else wants it – I have to look at it when I hand it back in.”

“You need the interruption.”

“The interruption and the deadline, yes.”

Variation on a Theme

“I’m back.”

“Oh, good.  …good Lord.”

“What?”

“Nothing, just – I’m sorry, how many bags of books do you have there?  I thought you said you were going off to read, not raid a bookstore.”

“It wasn’t a bookstore.  It was the library.”

And there wasn't a book sale. I didn't even get that many new requests. This was just me cleaning out my car.

And there wasn’t a book sale. I didn’t even get that many new requests. This was just me cleaning out my car.

“Oh.  I’d thought maybe a coffee shop…?”

“No, coffee shops are full of people buying coffee and chatting over their tea and – and then there’s the pressure to earn your seat by buying more coffee, which I don’t need.  Bookstores have no BYOB policy and in fact discourage bringing your own book….whereas the library has a fine parking lot, and a quiet table inside.”

“Sorry – what, exactly, does the parking lot have to do with anything?”

“Oh!  Well, on a fine evening like this, you can read in your car.  More airflow than indoors, and there was at least an hour of light.  And then inside for another hour and change.  I almost finished off that volume of Milosz, finally.”

“Seems a shame to read so fast instead of lingering over the words.  You can’t get as much out of it.”

Quirk of a bemused eyebrow.  “Is that how you always read?  Lingeringly?”

“Well, yeah.  More or less, depending on the book.”

“Tell me: do you always sip daintily at every glass of water?”  A blank look in response.  “Do you always, always let your beer or wine set for five whole seconds on your tongue before you swallow it?”  Sheepish shifting of feet, eyes drifting to the floor.  “Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Sure, maybe I don’t remember as much of it as you do, or as much as I’d like to recall – but good God, man, sometimes it’s sweltering out and you’re sweating too hard to do anything but gulp.  Sometimes you’re too caught up in conversation to attend so studiously to your beverage.  And that’s all for the best, honestly – drinks go with your food and conversation, not the other way ’round.”

“But contemplating words makes a good deal more sense than contemplating wine.”

“Not all words.  And, for that matter, not all wines, either.”

Random Research: Raphael and Rilke

Every once in a while, I stop and consider how utterly reliant I am on the internet in general, and Google in particular.  O, benevolent online overlords!  Thou art the repository of so much of human thought, the cache of my own ideas, and my lady Mnemosyne.  Nor dost thou scorn to stoop and serve me, so long as my ISP does not fail me and I can limit my query to 128 characters.

But sometimes even Google, mighty Google, cannot come to my aid.

Two instances of late come to mind.

Back in April, I went to Rome with a friend.  Among the sights I appreciated most was the library of Pope Julius II, the Stanza della Segnatura, which Raphael decorated on all sides with frescoes.  The School of Athens is there (cue flashbacks to college days), as well as La Disputa del Sacramento – The Disputation of the Sacrament.

Disputa_del_Sacramento_(Rafael)

I was struck with curiosity over the scribe girl sitting next to St. Augustine (the fellow with a miter to the right of the altar, who is gesturing toward her).  Presumably she’s taking notes on the discussion of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
La Disputa scribe

I love her.  My practice is the same: to write down what people are saying in conversation, whether it’s in a booklet or whatever scraps of paper I have to hand, whether it’s clever or funny or erudite or just plain ridiculous.  Whoever she is, she is my representative where this picture is concerned.

Sadly, I have no idea who she is.  She might not be anyone at all; she might be a figure representing all scribes in all times and in all places, or the preservation of the doctrine of the church throughout history.  She might be the anthropomorphization of some concept: purity, truth, reason.

After scrolling through site after site in vain, I became convinced that all the Googling in the world could not illuminate this figure for me.  I headed to the library and got out every book on Raphael they’ve got, which gave me background on the putative chronology of the frescoes, and the background for how Raphael was chosen to paint them, but not much insight on the iconography he used, beyond the fact that it was ground-breaking in its animation. Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, bless them, shared an endnote in their 1983 Raphael that Heinrich Pfeiffer explored the question in his dissertation, Zur Ikonographie von Raffaels Disputa.

It is a testament to my curiosity that I submitted a WorldCat request to get it from Montreal, despite the fact that I will need to translate the lot to get any answers from it.  Provoking!

But not, perhaps, as provoking as that other problem that plagues the internet, namely: people crediting an individual as the author of a quotation or idea or aphorism, without citing where they found it.  Then other people share it, be it truth or falsehood.  The thing becomes ubiquitous, a weed with no way to trace its forebears.

In this case, I found a poem credited to Rilke called “Blank Joy,” which of course appealed to me very greatly.  Given that he composed in German and French but not, to my knowledge, in English, I was interested in finding and translating the original.  So I checked Amazon for his titles, and took a look at their respective tables of contents.  I consulted my library’s catalog, and Wikipedia, and poetic fan sites: all the usual places.

The original German…does not appear to exist.  Or, rather, I’ve found it on three sites, but no one indicates what volume of his it was published in (was it published?  Did someone share a poem once written in a letter?).  Is it actually his?  How can we know?

So far the only solution I’ve come up with…is to request Sämtliche Werke in 12 Bänden – his complete works in twelve volumes – from the library.

I’m not sure what to take from this.  Maybe I should rely on Google less; perhaps I should consult the library and librarians therein first; possibly (probably) I should develop more vigorous and enterprising methods of research.

Or perhaps the real lesson is that I should learn German.

A Long-Expected Victory

We’re all familiar with the plaint: So many books, so little time.  I already own more books than I can read, it seems, enough that I have to make a conscious effort to pluck one and consume it.

Still wasn’t enough to keep me from opening the floodgates.

Worlds welcome me, my friends.

fireworks

There are gates I can sidle through, bridges I can cross, skies for the flying and seas for the diving.

Between the books my fellow Muses have discussed, the stories shared by readers, and various reading lists culled from other friends, there are enough reading materials to last me several lifetimes…and after a year and some change in Ann Arbor, I’ve finally gotten a library card so as to access them all.

Tremendous and terrible!  The catalog lay open to my use, and I confess I went right mad with power.  Hardly a day later, Undine, Phantastes, and Doctor Zhivago await me.  The Last Unicorn draws nigh from another branch of the bibliotheque tree.  Storm Front and The Once and Future King are mine for the reading once the other 8 readers are done with them.  Three Men in a Boat, through the genius of MeLCat, shall be brought to me, presented like a token to a world-conquering hero.

Yep, it definitely feels something like this.  Da-da-da-DUN!!!

Yep, it definitely feels something like this. Da-da-da-DUN!!!

Rejoice with me!

To Be Happy: Read Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie and I are friends. Of course, since she died right around when I was born, it’s all through her writing. In college, Poirot and Miss Marple stood beside me through everything that place dealt out. I used to sneak a soda and some M&M’s into the “quiet” library and hide in one of the cages with a nice little murder. I never even try to figure out “who done it”. I prefer to be surprised. In grad school, I started working on a theory about the place of murder mysteries and other popular styles of books in serious literature. This was really just a clever feint to read more Agatha Christie more often.
Now, when I need a pick-me-up, I have this habitual way of turning to Agatha Christie for a charming afternoon.
Miss Marple is just such a dear! Poirot, that vain man, really belongs in this very egotist’s club. Japp and Hastings, and all Miss Marple’s friends and neighbors are so delightful.
My favorite nerdy thing to do for a break from troubles is to find episodes of Poirot or Marple on youtube. They are blisteringly slow moving and strangely lit. There really isn’t any cinematography. The acting, though, is fantastic. The costuming and hairstyles are beautiful. Every gentleman always wears a boutonniere. if you have the patience, you will certainly be rewarded.
This last week, I’ve been worried about this and that, so I’ve been rationing episodes of David Suchet’s Poirot.
So gentlemanly, courtly, and self assured, he charms me. I am willing to wait for ages for a good line. I am rewarded, and I will share the best of them with you now, to save you the time.

On Women
“No, no, no, no, no, Hastings! Women, especially the architecturally inclined, do not want to talk about Bernini and cubic thingummies!”

On Happy Endings
“Yes, it is hard to bear, but we must put on the brave face and not allow cheerfulness to keep breaking through.”

Ordering Food in a Foreign Country
“The bowels in spit….I have your assurance that it is lamb kidneys on a skewer? Oui? Then I will have the bowels in spit. Thank you.”

Philosophic Tautologies
“Yes, but Miss Lemon, that was yesterday. And Yesterday was YESTERDAY!”

On the Course of Life
“Trust the train, mademoiselle, for it is Le Bon Dieu who drives it.”

Messieurs e Mesdames, Poirot salutes you!