Monday, December 15, 2014

My station

I had the pleasure again of reading some rather wonderful things this year, as I trust everybody did - the privilege, at least, if not the opportunity. In my way of living the opportunity has generally been plentiful, even if sometimes the graduation from the compulsory to the habitual, may have felt deprived of ceremony. As the poet of my gen-eration said, I was hungry, and it was your world. To some extent this feeling has been a constant with me.

In the ironic realm of gratitude for this, or simple adaptation, I certainly wish to acknowledge the unreasonably generous fount of companionship afforded by way of reading, in something that isn't a book at all. I refer to my priceless subscription to The New York Review of Books, which has joined me in countless lunches throughout the year, with printouts of archived essays of the past 50 years, and lately with tablet-domiciled scrolls of these treasures. In the way we observe the device-borne, treading water by thumb-swipe in the shallows, fleeing patient jellyfish, I undertake a comparably determined, if premeditated study of writers referenced here occa-sionally, and others, enabled by the incomparable frequency with which nearly anything they most wanted one to see, they most wanted to publish there. There is not another publication in which such depth of vertical tastings affords such true rapport with character, and only one's allotment of curious friends can promise superior comfort. But this is already known, and I pray, by them.

That said, the year delivered, through the auspices of this very magazine, a republication of Montaigne in the translation familiar to William Shakespeare. By any rational rubric - ah, but we say metric these days, as if we had invented evidence - the occasion would sweep the field in tweeting, and so it must have been doing. I don't tweet, but somehow this could be metered, surely. Or do all these little flutters just converge, without (like Skinner's rats) proving Deuteronomy?

No, a book of consequence matures, as Emerson believed, in our experience with it, in an arbitrary limitation of time, and gains a little imperviousness to distraction, even to fashion. This is seldom a coincidence - a dictionary, for example, offers to suit that definition, but then we have Samuel Johnson's, which doesn't. And which is the one we love. 

If I am lunching with literature, I'm touched by the paradoxical intimacy with strangers that tweeting contrives to invert for one's nearest and dearest thousands. Yet again, it's simply a matter of hunger, and what to do about it. I live with a terrible example, in the form of an English dog. He will be 2 years old this week, with the equinox; but precocious as he is, he's not getting the gift of a thousand masters. He's getting one, to mortify him with laughter in Wodehouse, to lull him with the statelier essays, and to tweak his constitutionals with the provocations of real, naughty birds. He's from California. I'm afraid it shows. 

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