Sunday, January 26, 2014

Adventures of a book

Dear Reader,

In this blog post I would like to relate a vision that I had t’other day. I was sitting on my chair, canvassing my book-shelves, and methought that one of my books came to life, this simple hardcover duodecimo volume, the title of which I could not easily see from where I was sitting. It began to speak to me as if it had a mouth. The book related to me the story of its life which I herein faithfully reproduce:

“I was born,” says he, “in a printing house in Burlington, New Jersey, though my memory of that period is naturally faint. Shortly after I was pressed and bound, I was packed inside a crate and loaded onto a vehicle headed to New York City. My first owner was a kindly old book seller who placed me in his store on a shelf overlooking a window. My earliest memories from that period are of a telephone pole and a row of windows making up the bottom floor of a handsome red brick structure, and occasional pedestrians passing in front of me. Here I remained for the first two or three months of my life, marveling upon everything I saw out the window.

I was given as a gift to my first owner, a young man of a rather waggish disposition, who took poor care of me. I cannot remember whether the fellow ever read me at all, which surely is to be expected among such frivolous gentlemen who prefer to spend many hours tapping away on their electronic gew-gaws. Yet I remained in his household for no more than three months. Ultimately, I was tossed into a box full of other books and other trinkets, and, to my unspeakable horror, left on a street corner.

Luckily, my next owner claimed me before the monstrous garbage trucks could  swallow me or nature’s forces destroy me. I was very happy to have a home again, especially one in which my new guardian could give me the proper care and attention I deserved. Shortly after I was carried to my new Master's home, he did peruse me from front to back, even making several pencil annotations throughout my several parts. At his home, I was introduced to about two hundred more of my brethren, with whom I maintained various interactions in the time I was there. They helped me discovered some things about my owner and about the world at large. From their words I learned that my Master’s single vice was that of wanting household husbandry skills, though that otherwise he was a decent gentleman, who never forgot to take heed of us on regular basis. I soon found out that my owner was also rather slovenly in his handling of those of us under his care. I suffered some bodily damages as a result of his physical negligence. Along with the penciled annotations I received at his hand, I also became heavily dog-eared by him; moreover, my front cover was branded with the outline of a cup; and my spine was nearly snapped in twain. But, all things considered, I was merely happy to be attended to by a good reader such as he surely was. I remained for about five years in this rather not unpleasant condition, during which I was read over by my Master carefully at least two times---‘tis an excellent rate nowadays for any book. Unfortunately, my owner was driven into bankruptcy, and at the injunction of his creditors was forced to sell most of his possessions to remain, as people say, above water. Consequently, I was separated from him and the other books and carried to a university library somewhere in Manhattan.

This stage of my life that I am about to relate was by far the most challenging yet. At first the kind librarians, to their credit, did greatly attend to my health in erasing all pencil marks in me and restoring my spine to a more auspicious condition. However, soon I was bedaubed with some sort of identification sticker, which recorded my place of confinement, which was glued to the bottom of my newly-restored spine.  I was about six years old when I thus found myself placed on a shelf, squeezed very tightly between other books, in a remote corner of the library. I remained in this state of circumscription for many, many years; indeed I know not how long I was holed up in this spot, for never once was I perused or taken home by any of the goodly university fellows the whole time I resided there.    

Living in that university library was a most dreadful experience indeed, as I was completely deprived of human attention. The company of books around me, most of whom, by that point in their lives, resigned themselves to a fate of never being adopted by a reader, the books around me, I say, rather than offering any solace to a lonely creature, served but merely as frightening reminders of what I feared would become of me. From communicating with some of them I concluded that being sent to a university library was, to put it mildly, a blessing of a highly mixed nature---one’s fate is either to be studied closely by a series of devoted young scholar---who are known to be the best readers among all other types of educated people---or one is stacked in some university with students, to put it mildly, of a more liberal attitude towards reading and towards paper books. 

My first major fright occurred when I began to notice a layer of dust settling upon me, as it began to emerge that no callow Aristotle would come to escort me home with him even for a day. Soon I began to notice my pages showing yellow around the edges. How I was driven to distraction some of the times! How I was made beside myself! And how upon such occasions I did rail madly upon the world for many hours at a time! But my oaths and execration did little to affect what I understood as my dreadful fate! I was moved to a few different corners of the library during my stay there, but neither area of occupancy affected my chances of being noticed by a reader. So I remained in this state of patient despair for I know not how long, awaiting that reader that I could come to love (and one who could stay out of jail too).  

As for what I am actually about, of that I can say very little. ‘Tis a common misconception among all the people that books somehow can read themselves. This notion is so absurd that I will not even waste any words refuting it. Needless to say, every piece of knowledge I gained about my self occurred through my interactions with all my readers.

To return to my story, leading up to the end of my stay at the university, there was undertaken some restoration project on the building where I was then busy cursing my fate, and I was discarded along with thousands of other books. We were separated from each other after many years of our dumb cheek-by-jowl confinement. 

I was around thirteen years old when I was thus released from the university.

I was taken in a truck to the Bronx, New York, to a very big warehouse. There was much constant activity in the warehouse, which was rather entertaining for me to watch, with the same group of people always walking back and forth, carrying away and packing different sorts of objects; but, alas, no one taking much time to read me. However, I was delivered from this warehouse in a short period of time, and handed over to some rough postal workers, who relayed me to the place I am now, in your lovely apartment, Mr. Samuel Richardson.  

You have treated me kindly and been a great reader of me ever since then, and I would like to thank you. Now I go. Take care.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014

To be or not to be

It pleases me to relate to my reader the following account of a recent gathering of my MeetUp group, known as the Amateur Shakespeare Society, of which I am both current Head and Founder.

Upon this occasion, all of us had gathered in the living room, after we had finished dinner. Mr. Slepovitch, who had heretofore been reading Hamlet, claimed our attention in the following manner, “I say, my dear friends, reading over Prince Hamlet’s most famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy has stirred in me thoughts upon that unique human folly known in some legal circles as felo-de-se, or, as it is more commonly called in the vulgar, suicide. Though, as it must be admitted, Hamlet was of a rather brutish disposition, we ought still to commend him for his nobility in rejecting this hideous temptation, what say you?” As he was speaking, Slepovitch remained on a divan in one corner of the room, surrounded by his friends, who typically shared his beliefs in various articles of faith and applauded his many verdicts upon the world.   

“For I am mightily incensed at all those modern philosophers,” continued Slepovitch, “who have endeavored to justify such a monstrous sin, who have attempted to excuse this practice, and who censor not those men and women that succumb to this vile contingency. Indeed, we must not refrain from censoring harshly even those dearest friends of ours who choose to end their lives in such base manner.” After he finished, the people sitting in his circle expressed their approval and spoke of the convincing manner in which he delivered his opinions. Then Slepovitch, remaining true to the occasion of our group gathering, which is to say, a sociable rather an ecclesiastical occasion, Slepovitch in short time, I say, led a merry drinking toast in honor to Life, mysterious, inexplicable Human Life. So we raised our tankards high---some of the madams instead swallowing biscuits that had been dipped in wine---and wassailed those superior qualities of our lives wherein we are distinguished from the beasts.

“If I may be so bold as to disagree with you,” said Miss Betsey Shanka, “‘tis no great sin for man to resign this life if he so wishes.” Miss Shanka was sitting in the corner of the room opposite from where Slepovitch had been sitting, surrounded by those friends of hers who supported, and sometimes encouraged, these occasional daring flights of her intellect.  “’Tis no sin at all in fact. Why, ‘tis no worse than any other action of which a man is granted by nature the capacity to carry out.” As she had finished, Miss Farquhar and Mr. Brockden warmly expressed their approval, while the rest of Miss Betsey’s friends merely waited to see whither the tide of opinion was turning before they dared say anything.  

“I expected no such opposition from you,” said Mr. Slepovitch. “But you shall be excused for speaking erroneously this time because you seem to have forgotten those rules which Providence had firmly established against Self-Slaughter.”

“Well,” began Miss Shanka, “if by that claptrap you mean to say that Providence has established an order in the universe, such that my resignation from this world amounts to a willful violation of this supreme order, why, then, it must be admitted, you are holding an absurd position. Almost every action or motion performed by us innovates on some parts of matter and diverts from their ordinary course the general laws of motion. It would be no crime in me to divert the Hudson or the East River from its course were I able to effect such purposes. Where then is the crime of turning a few ounces of blood from their natural channel? Has not everyone, of consequence, the free disposal of his own life? And may he not lawfully employ that power with which nature has endowed him?” After Miss Shanka finished, she quickly sat down in her chair, perhaps being slightly nauseated by the thought of blood, looking down at her phone gew-gaw to see whether she received any text messages while speaking. Nevertheless, her words galvanized her friends, as Mr. Brockden, affected very much by the genial nature of the occasion, led a drinking toast in honor of Suicide. Ever willing to oblige, Miss Farquhar joined Mr. Chatterjee, Mr. Byrd, Miss Carrington, Mr. Rosenthal, and the rest of Slepovitch’s friends, myself and himself included, in giving a hearty bib to Suicide.   

“Why, I had no idea we were blessed with a Sophist here at our society,” Slepovitch spoke forth: “Life of man is surely of greater importance to the functioning of this order than some river, for a river has no consciousness, or, what is more important, no consciousness of the divine order. If you permit man the right to dispose of his life, then you allow a breach in the fortifications of the castle wherein humanity lies protected. Hark, what confusion may follow, what chimeras may infect our knowledge, when the foundations on which all things rest are thus undermined. No breach is small enough but that the enemy may exploit it and send incursions against us. Every human creature is like a sentinel posted atop his own tower and commanded to guard against incursion of the devil." Thus concluded Slepovitch his homily, adding the following: "Though I expect you to be, madam, rather latitudinarian in your views on Beelzebub.”  

Mr. Chatterjee, being one of Slepovitch’s most ardent supporters, delivered himself in the following words: “Miss Shanka may likely be more familiar with some of Satan’s agents on earth cast in corporeal form, such as Mr. Barbiturates, Mr. Jack Daniels, Mr. Crack Cocaine, or Mr. Sony Playstation.”

“Far from it” said Miss Shanka, “rather than disturb the order of the universe, my suicide may improve the lives of those who reside upon this globe. For the life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster. If I can no longer benefit my neighbor, or my society---and seeing that I am under no obligation to toil for my neighbor or society at my own expense---am I not then entitled to withdraw, from this sublunary existence?” Her words stirred the audience into much appreciative chatter. Miss Farquhar commended Miss Shanka’s superior performance. Mr. Lismahago likewise praised her commonsensical notions, while Mr. Brockden said something in favor of her shrewdness. Encouraged by her friend, Miss Farquhar led another ecumenical toast in honor of Self-Slaughter, upon which toast the social temperature in the room became highly affable indeed.

“Marvelous, marvelous,” quoth I, “Miss Shanka would surely prefer the destruction of half the world to a pricking of her little finger. My dear Miss Shanka, you are the most interesting woman I have ever known. But let us not cudgel our brains about this heavy topic anymore---and let us have a round of wine in honor of the great muses to my muses, Virtue, Love, and Beauty.” In such spirit of merriment we carried the rest of the evening, and so had run on another meeting of the Amateur Shakespeare Society of New York City.