Leisure Reading

Posted March 29, 2000 at 5:38 pm No Comments

I think that Madeline’s job at Barnes & Noble suits her quite well.  One day I visited the Highland store while she was working there, hoping that she could suggest some books.

“What did you have in mind?” she inquired, “Mystery novels?  Science fiction?   Travel stories?”

“I decided that I’m not well-read enough,” I told her.  “Whenever I talk to you about literature, I feel really stupid.  And the other day my friend Matt made a reference to The Great Gatsby and I had to admit that I had never read it.”

“So you’re looking for what, then,” she asked, “classics of American literature, I guess?”

“What I basically want, Madeline, is a transplant of your literary brain.  Can you do that?”

“Well,” she replied with some hesitation, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Twenty minutes later a huge stack of books was piled precariously in my arms.  Madeline didn’t seem to notice, however, continuing her businesslike march through the fiction aisles as I tagged along, trying not to drop anything.  “Ah, you can’t do without Dickens,” she exclaimed, adding a 500-page volume to my overflowing pile.  “This one is my favorite,” she explained, “It’s so delightfully Victorian!”

“Hmm, yes,” I nodded, vaguely bemused.

“And Thomas Pynchon is also a must,” she continued, running her index finger along a row of books with a concentrated countenance.  “Let’s see,” she asked herself, “should I give you The Crying of Lot 49 or V?  I better be gentle,” she decided, selecting the former.

“Gentle is good,” I agreed, noticing that V was almost three times as thick.

“Hmm, we’ll have to give you some Virginia Wolff too,” Madeline frowned.  “I’m not sure if you’ll like that though.”

“Really?  Why not?”

“Well, Pynchon’s novels are sort of like Stravinsky’s music, in that all sorts of wild things are going on and you never know quite what’s going to happen next.  Whereas Wolff’s stories are more like Debussy, in that the surface changes are minute, but underneath the chords are subtly growing and changing.”

“Well, I’ll give Wolff a shot,” I shrugged, secretly jealous of Madeline for her ability to casually make such intelligent-sounding analogies.  “I guess that’s what they teach you at Harvard,” I thought to myself.

When I left for spring break, I brought along a whole slew of books, figuring I’d have plenty of time to catch up on free reading.  What I discovered was that reading in Cancun doesn’t work very well.  There are simply too many distractions.

Day 1

There’s something very strange about trying
to read The Grapes of Wrath by the pool
with a daiquiri yard glass in hand.

Topless sunbather 1, John Steinbeck 0.

Day 2

Matt Taylor was not immune to distraction either…

Day 3

At this point I pretty much just gave up.

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