Saturday, October 30, 2010

Old Friends

On most occasions, it is a warming pleasure to see someone you have known from a past time in your life, a school mate, a neighbor, a workmate, a student, and of course  client.  We are all of us in some orbit of passage, of growing older, wiser perhaps, more affluent, less affluent, more acerbic, more accepting, pouchier, in someway a victim to gravity.  In spite of the more obvious signs of aging, there is nevertheless a sense of comfort or enjoyment or even a determination to be comfortable; often wisdom and empathy shine through.

There are times you see such individuals when a sense of alarm sets in, before you notice it, calling your attention to some extreme process that has found foothold.  Before your eyes the image you have carried of the individual has been tarnished, possibly rumbled or otherwise distorted, leaving you to sympathy where there was once a different kind of sympathy, one infused with optimism, hope, expectation.

Somewhere along the pathway of your most recent book reviewing circumstances, you fell into the pattern of alternating a new title with an older one, drawing a line in the sand of at least a five year gap from publication day to your re-review of the book.  Your choices for these alternate-week selections are based every bit as much on whim as your choice of the freshly published work.  Well, perhaps not; perhaps the availability of the older book is also influenced by its presence in the garage you have over the years turned away from being a garage and into a library, complete with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a disorderly presentation of your own reading tastes.

Thus you have written as the adult you, the book reviewer you, the you who as editor for various publishing houses, had to write descriptions and discussions of books that were submitted in hopes of publication, the you who has evolved a persnickety and idiosyncratic relationship to the materials that come to hand.  And thus, in the musty aisles of the garage, you have sought a new older title to review.  One of your theories about what fiction should do for the writer and for the reader is to focus on a particular quest for a particular thing, where the sought object may or not be discovered but where something of greater value is unearthed.

While you are about, dispensing thus tropes as though they were advance notices for an impending circus, you discovered not so much a new older book to review but instead the awareness that such books you have read in the past and been drawn to are now as the old friends and acquaintances you feel the squirt of alarm at seeing.  Something about one of you--you or the book--has undergone change, and the other--you or the book--has remained unchanged.  This is no mere clash of centuries.  Some eighteenth century books still spread warmth through you like a sip of splendid cognac.

You have spent much of the day in contemplation, wondering how to categorize or quantify the sources for concern or disaffection.  Can you, to use a Facebook expression, unfriend a once favored older work?  This is not a light exercise as warm-up for a day's writing stint; this is a calamitous discovery, one that may have been triggered by the literary agent of a dear old friend, wanting you to go through his most notable, breakthrough work, the one that catapulted him into fame, doing a search and destroy on unnecessary adverbs before said work is sent off to take its rightful place in the e-book venues of the world.

At the moment, your mind is a tumble of old friends, books that literally got you through your pre-teens, then the raucous scrum of your teens and into your completely insensible twenties, launched into times that seemed more appropriate extensions of your education than your formal education was in reality.

Somewhere in there, Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss are waiting and so, too H. Rider Haggard's She, and yes, goddamn it, the Albert Payson Terhune books about goddamn collies which at the time seemed the only possible dog in the world until you got that equally goddamn job working on the goddamn Lassie series.  And was it that you had to be nineteen or twenty to enjoy This Side of Paradise? It wasn't, was it, that you'd gone drinking on a forged ID at the Garden of Allah, where he, F.Scott Fitzgerald, lived and drank, and met an actual drinking buddy of his, was it?

Whatever it was, you are watching the goddamn garage.

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