Sunday, January 24, 2010

Friends: Human and Literary

Reading allows the luxury of friendship with persons you may never otherwise meet, not least of all because they lived out their lifespan before you were born. You approach these literary friends with the same degree of reserve, suspicion, and cynicism you express when going to a gathering, a library, or a bookstore, thinking yourself fortunate to come away from a gathering, a library, or a bookstore with the prospects for a new friendship.

Friendships--human and literary--represent landscapes fraught with complexity, challenge, and accommodation. Your human friends are often faced with the need to be tolerant of what one of them called your tendency toward execrable puns; you often need to be tolerant of a prolific literary friend such as McMurtry or the late, lamented Robert B. Parker for their occasional duds. To enter into either kind of friendship requires you to ante up trust and a willingness to be honest beyond the boundaries of vulnerability.

A friend is someone who will not tell you the truth for your own good, that role best served by parents or adversaries, thus giving you the opportunity not to listen. A friend is someone who may become a temporary adversary who is, nevertheless, willing to trust that you will eventually consider his or her entire resume as your friend. Nor is a friend someone who will lie to you with the intent of keeping you from harm's way. Human and literary friends may lie to you and you to them; this is a given because you are all humans, alive or with your work completed.

There are any number of reasons for having friends, the most basic among them is the comfort of companionship with like minds that leads to growth toward rather than growth away. As you grow from association with human friends, you wish them to have association with you from which they may grow.

Friends in both categories, literary and human, define you to yourself, to your friends, and to adversaries whom you may, in time, befriend.

Sometimes, in your work area, in your bedroom, and in the garage, other times in libraries or book stores, you see and feel the nostalgia of ongoing friendships and those that simply ran out of steam. In terms of your own life, the oldest book you have is one given to you on your thirteenth birthday; it is a large, thick volume that contains all of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and that remarkable first-person venture that immediately upon reading made you feel good because you had indeed read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and indeed already knew the personage of Huckleberry Finn. This particular friend also contains portions of Life on the Mississippi, Puddin'head Wilson, A Connecticut Yankee, and several segments from Roughing It and The Innocents Abroad. This one book reminds you of John Dryden, speaking of Geoffrey Chaucer. "Here," Dryden said of Chaucer, "is God's plenty." Much as you thought at various times to tread the path of religiosity, you are not so and only invoke one of God's names to give vent to some sort of anger or damnation, but as a metaphor, you rather like Dryden's view because, although not a great fan of his, you are fond of Chaucer, fond enough to usurp what Dryden said of him and apply it to this thick, crumbly wellspring of friendship.

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