Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Age of Rereading

When you were pursuing what you considered to be the formal aspects of your education, you were hit with a bunch of Ages:  there was the Ice Age, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and don't forget the Little Ice Age.  There was also the Romantic Age, the Age of Reason, and the Age of Enlightenment.

You have taken courses in the Age of Pope and Dryden, the Age of Wordsworth and Coleridge, the Age of Victoria, and the Jazz Age, which taken in their aggregate fabric, caused you significant regret that you did not pay closer heed to the possibilities of taking a more formal approach to history.  

Never mind, you were more interested in what persons wrote as opposed to the times and circumstances that caused things to be written.  For you, literature was the dog, not its tail; history was the dog, a dog such as your late partial Australian Cattle Dog, her tail docked against the possibility of it wagging furiously against shrubs and trees, causing it to split open and breed.

You were aware, while in the thrall of formality, of another kind of age, the right age, the proper age in which to read a particular book or a specific author.  This radiated a kind of secret code familiarity with the author who got all this started for you, Thomas Wolfe, of whom it was said that you should read him while you were eighteen.  You did.  You pretty much read all of Wolfe during your nervous, St. Vitus dance of being eighteen.  You were a sophomore in college.  

You were quick to realize how his Germanic excesses left you cold; you needed the fire, wit, and irony of Sinclair Lewis. You'd already been so taken with Chaucer that you'd moved on to thinking you could learn to read Anglo-Saxon.  You couldn't, but you could do a fair job of reading portions of it aloud, with the net result that you had a grip on the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Eighteen would also have been a good time to have read Ayn Rand for the first time, but you'd already read her for the first time at seventeen, giving you free rein to move on to Sinclair Lewis and John O'Hara after you'd finished with Thomas Wolfe.  When in later years, you went back to Thomas Wolfe, you could begin to see why eighteen was the right age, with all its sturm und drang, which you'd mistaken for good writing.

A few years later, in your twenties, you'd met your true mentor, Rachel Maddux, and understood what she meant about making good use of your time in your youth, because your sensitivities were nearing their highest and you were in effect taking on sensual information you'd have for the rest of your life.  You took her at her word and spent diligent hours reading.  

But you'd also taken to heart the need to learn as much about single malt whisky as possible, the better to compare your findings with Irish whiskey, and one of the great American contributions to the dive bar, sour mash bourbon.  

Not necessary to expand here on the preoccupation with and desire to learn as much as you could about sex, although that began to influence the things you read as you became aware how there were levels of mere lust and, well beyond, of a seeming intensity that went beyond the ordinary, causing otherwise ordinary persons to do desperate, achingly foolish things.

At this time, you were reading a good deal of fantasy and science fiction, Westerns, suspense and moving on into hardboiled mystery, the thought of rereading anyone except Mark Twain not presenting itself as an option.  With so much to read, why would you wish to reread?  Talk about naive narrators.  But at least you were earnest.

You were the right age for reading the first Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, which made you wish to read more of his work, longing for the time when you might acquire some of his insights and perception.  Hemingway came along at the right time as well, but in the same manner Wolfe pushed you toward Sinclair Lewis, Hemingway pushed you toward John Steinbeck.  When you read Of Mice and Men for the first time, you began to understand why you might have to reread things again and again.

The discovery that Fitzgerald and Ring Lardner were friends was the first of the positive pushes, where you were drawn as opposed to another writer because of a friendship with someone you cared for.

You were well out of your formal education and deep into the rabbit hole of your own curiosity and goals, thus your encounters not of the marvels Alice found but of your own, often whimsical, more often yet distracting ventures into the Age of Rereading.

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