Summer Reading, 2012
by, 07-07-2012 at 12:43 AM (735 Views)
Iíve got an ambitious summer reading planned and thought Iíd share. For some reason hearing what others are reading gives me some sort of pleasure. It satisfies an impulse of curiosity. Iím not a prying person, nor a nosy person, but when sitting by someone who is reading, say on an airplane, I canít help to try and peek over and spy on the title of the book. Does that make me a peeping Tom? .
So for anyone whoís curious about my summer reading plans, hereís a blog on a completely trivial subject.
My summer reading will follow on my year long theme of mid 19th century American literature, especially the polarized opposition of the Transcendentalists and anti-Transcendentalist.
On the transcendentalist side, Iíve been reading Walt Whitmanís, Leaves of Grass: Death-Bed Edition. I've Thatís his entire opus that he revised the year prior to his passing and was published almost with his death. I've read two thirds so far since January and I'm looking to finish it. Itís truly an opus, amounting to about 530 pages of poetry. Luckily Whitmanís poetry is not that complex, smooth reading, and a lot of fun, and Iíve really grown fond of his voice. Ernest Hemingway famously said that ďall modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.Ē Twain surely was important but Hemingway was wrong. The American voice, the American language, the root of our literature comes from Walt Whitmanís Leaves of Grass. It is so distinctly American in its themes and style and voice. Leaves of Grass is not as great as say Danteís The Divine Comedy, but it codifies the American language as Dante codified the Italian. Hereís a sampling from what I just read today, ďPassage to IndiaĒ. Let me preface it; the passage is a metaphorical passage of his soul, and ultimately itís a passage beyond the physical to the metaphysical. Hereís a key part from stanza 8 (which was in stanza 11 in a previous version):
The bulk of the summer will be spent with Herman Melville, the thematic opposite of Whitman, though his voice as deeply American as Whitmanís. Iíll be reading, Why Read Moby-Dick by Nathaniel Philbrick, a non-scholarly appreciation of the greatest of American novels, Herman Melville by Elizabeth Hardwick, a short Penguin Lives biography, and of course, Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This I think will be my fourth reading of the novel. Why read it again? Because there are some touchstones of literature that need constitutional drilling so that it fits you as a glove. Hereís a passage from that glorious chapter one:O soul thou pleasest me, I thee,
Sailing these seas or on the hills, or waking in the night,
Thoughts, silent thoughts, of Time and Space and Death, like waters flowing,
Bear me indeed as through the regions infinite,
Whose air I breathe, whose ripples hear, lave me all over,
Bathe me O God in thee, mounting to thee,
I and my soul to range in range of thee.
O Thou transcendent,
Nameless, the fibre and the breath,
Light of the light, shedding forth universes, thou centre of them,
Thou mightier centre of the true, the good, the loving,
Thou moral, spiritual fountain--affection's source--thou reservoir,
(O pensive soul of me--O thirst unsatisfied--waitest not there?
Waitest not haply for us somewhere there the Comrade perfect?)
Thou pulse--thou motive of the stars, suns, systems,
That, circling, move in order, safe, harmonious,
Athwart the shapeless vastnesses of space,
How should I think, how breathe a single breath, how speak, if, out
I could not launch, to those, superior universes?
Swiftly I shrivel at the thought of God,
At Nature and its wonders, Time and Space and Death,
But that I, turning, call to thee O soul, thou actual Me,
And lo, thou gently masterest the orbs,
Thou matest Time, smilest content at Death,
And fillest, swellest full the vastnesses of Space.
Ha! I just picked the Whitman and Melville passages at random, but already you can see the opposition. That ďmetaphysical professorĒ is a jab at Ralph Waldo Emerson, the father of Transcendentalism. Notice how Whitman leads the reader beyond the physical sea to a metaphysical place while all the Melvilleís perambulations come to a stop, ďthe limit of the land,Ē which foreshadows the final stop of the ship, The Pequad, against the brute head of the white whale. There is no transcendence for Melville.There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs- commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?- Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster- tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?
But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling And there they stand- miles of them- leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets avenues- north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?
Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries- stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.
Interspersed between all that Iím going to read the memoir of a real US Supreme Court Justice, someone who understands how the Constitution is there to preserve freedom, not make the individual the bondservant of the government; Iím reading My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas. Iíve already read the first two chapters and it should be required reading by every American. What a grandfather; what a way to raise a child.
If I still have time, Iíll try to squeeze in another reading of Hamlet, since Iíve got to test a theory I came across last year on the play. And typically, Iíll squeeze in short stories as I get in the mood for a change of pace. All the books I mentioned you can find on Amazon.