The musicalized, heat-filled dream of possessing his beloved

I went to Homecoming at St. John’s College this weekend. I got my master’s degree there, but I consider it my alma mater much more than I do my undergrad institution. I had a good time; it wasn’t as transformative as the Piraeus seminar I attended this past May/June, but it was a great opportunity to reconnect with other students, tutors, and an old pal who came to visit on Saturday. I didn’t get to record any podcast conversations during the trip, but did reach out to a few potential guests.

It’s been a busy few weeks for me. Two weekends ago was the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD. The next weekend we had a wedding in Dawson, PA, about 375 miles from home. This weekend was Annapolis. Next weekend I leave to Madrid and hope that the riots settle down enough for me to get to my conference safely.

I took a half-day from work on Friday, after pounding out pages and sending PDFs to the contributors of the new ish, so they can send me their corrections in time for me to get the new issue out by Wednesday. I left for Annapolis around 2 in the afternoon and had to deal with a little traffic on the ride down, but got in safe and sound, albeit unfed.

I checked in at my hotel, then drove to campus, got my registration packet, picked up a powerbar-sorta thing for dinner, and headed over to the Homecoming lecture, The Musical Universe and Mozart’s Magic Flute, by Peter Kalkavage. Peter was the tutor for my preceptorial on Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right. His 1991 essay on the role of Ulysses in The Divine Comedy was one of the things that convinced me to attend St. John’s. (It’s in this PDF.)

The lecture was way over my head, breaking down Tamino’s aria in technical ways to reveal its beauty. I’m not an opera guy and have no musical training to speak of, but I still enjoyed Peter’s exploration of the structure of the music and the effects Mozart achieved from his notes, tones, etc.

I seriously don’t have a vocabulary for this. In the Graduate Institute (the GI), we don’t receive a lot of the instruction that the undergrads do. They have music, languages (ancient Greek & French), and laboratory science. Because of our truncated schedules, we make do with a lot less. (Not that I’m complaining.) I sat with another GI during the lecture. We laughed when everyone in our section flipped the page of their sheet-music handout at the right moment, while we kept looking at the first bar. It’s always fun to be the uneducated one.

Early on, Peter put on a recording of the aria, which he would later play selections of on a piano (and sing particular segments to demonstrate certain progressions). While the recording played, he swayed a little at the lectern. That’s when my reverie began.

I thought of everything that I’ve experienced in the past few weeks. First, I thought about Jaime Hernandez, the cartooning genius, choking up while telling an SPX audience about a scene from a Tyrone Power movie, The Eddie Duchin Story.

I started recalling moments from SPX: meeting people in autograph lines, arguing (gently) with Chris Ware over how “Gill Sans” is spelled, buying art from Jaime and his brother Beto, sitting at a barroom table with the Mt. Rushmore of modern cartooning (the Hernandezes, Ware, Dan Clowes, and Charles Burns were on hand), trying to talk Kevin Huizenga into recording a podcast next time I’m in St. Louis.

From there to Michael Dirda’s house on the way back to NJ. Looking over his bookshelves, noting the UK hardcover of A Frolic of His Own, discovering that third Nabokov collection of lectures on literature, spying the brick of Kingsley Amis’ letters on the shelf behind Dirda while I interviewed him.

A week in NJ followed, with Rosh Hashanah and then the annual conference I help host. Six or seven hundred people come to a hotel to participate in the show, and it always leaves me exhausted, but at least it didn’t leave me in the emergency room like last year’s anxiety-sleeplessness-caffeine feedback loop did.

Right after the conference finished, I drove home, unpacked, then repacked, and Amy & I drove out to Dawson for a wedding: Six-plus hours in the car on 78 and 76, culminating in a dirt road (Lucky Lane) in the dark before arriving at the hotel. Touchscreen cheesesteak at a truck-stop Wawa; a little local bookstore daring enough to have William S. Burroughs’ Queer and Junky on end-cap display (picked up a used copy of The Two Cultures by CP Snow); meeting gin freaks and elderly computer bazillionaires at the wedding; finishing The Good Soldier, on Dirda’s recommendation; watching eight or nine of the male wedding guests gathering in the middle of the dance floor for a bizarre choreographed haka-polka hybrid set to Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”; passing on karaoke.

Sunday morning, we drove out to Fallingwater, about 40 minutes away, before heading back to NJ. It was impossible and gorgeous and everything I hoped it would be, and it made me feel a little sad to be returning to the standard nine-room bi-level of our neighborhood. I thought about the engineer in Local Hero telling Peter Riegert and Peter Capaldi, “Dream large.” I got another touchscreen cheesesteak on the drive home.

Worked frantically through the next week, punctuated with a 25-hour break for Yom Kippur. In addition to the standard fast (no food or drink), I decided I’d really get out of myself and not look at a screen for that span: no iPhone, no computer, no TV. It was as liberating as I expected. By the time I checked my e-mail after breaking my fast Wednesday night (at Greek City in Ramsey), I had 35 messages on my personal e-mails, only a few of which I wanted to respond to, and none of which were imperative.

I prayed Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon with the Chabad that I visited in past years. They’ve always been accommodating, no matter how slack of a Jew I am. Some of the older gents in the congregation either recognized me from past years or just wanted to introduce themselves and make new acquaintances, which was nice. I’m so bad about joining community; I’m much better with afflicting myself.

At the end of mid-day prayers, we received a blessing from a kohen. I’d never been present for that before. We were instructed to look in his direction, but not to make eye contact during the blessing. It’s customary to cover one’s eyes with one’s tallis during this. The man in front of me set a good screen, however, so I was able to look forward without looking on the kohen’s face.

When I wasn’t at Chabad, I passed the time by re-reading King Lear, since I’d signed up for a 90-minute seminar in it for Homecoming. I hadn’t read it in years, and this reading may have been skewed a bit by the fast, since I was going without caffeine for this stretch.

After mid-day, I drove out to Nyack, NY to walk around and pass sometime. I discovered my favorite bookstore there was gone, replaced by a dry cleaner. I visited another store, the fiction department of which was filled with stacks of trade paperbacks. I tried looking at some back Paris Reviews in a stack, but it started to tip, then bumped another tower of books. I caught both of them and struggled to get them stable again without anyone at the front of the store noticing. A day of affliction can always use a little levity.

And then it was back to work, and then on to Homecoming, where this reverie began. I scrawled these reminiscences all over the backs of the sheet-music handouts. I also wrote down some details of a wonderful dream I had the night before, where I read the profile of an author who wrote a book that, according to a hybrid of Chip Delany, Michael Dirda and Junot Diaz, I would love. The book and the author don’t exist, but I retained the title of the novel, and woke up and wrote it down. I used to dream a lot more about fully-formed works of art, but it hasn’t happened in a while. I’m afraid of what that means.

Among all these notes Friday night, I wrote, “Made PDFs for contributors; put on conference.” Then I wrote, “It’s funny how unimportant those things are, and how necessary for me to live this beauty. How little of work will I remember as I grow old, and how much will I hold onto from everything else?”

Thanks for sticking around. Here are the books I bought at the college store on Saturday:

St. John's College bookstore run

The Western Canon

Our library is almost complete; once our handyman finishes putting in the flooring and does some touch-up work, which he thinks he can pull off in the next two weeks, we can move some furniture down there and get to reading. And maybe writing and recording some more podcasts. But mainly reading.

I plan on moving our dining room table, a solid and non-descript Ikea affair, downstairs to serve as my big-ass desk/work-table. Here’s the bookcase that will be situated right above the center of the table.

A Few of My Favorite Things

I thought I’d put some of the good stuff right in front of me as a reminder of how much I have to learn. Click through the pic for a breakdown of what’s there.

An Embarrassment (Of riches? Maybe?)

The library downstairs is nearing completion! All that remains is painting the ceiling and the wall under the shelves, and then putting in the floor (I know, that last part could take forever, but hey).

Last month, I got the idea to inaugurate the new library with some special/new books. I’ve noted before that I’m on a bit of an austerity plan this year. I’ve cut back most of my discretionary purchases, let some expenses go, and basically done some evaluating of what makes me happy and what just distracts me.

I decided our new library could use a nice set of A Dance To The Music of Time paperbacks. I was saddened to discover that the U of Chicago press edition of the four-volume set with slipcover isn’t available (I mean, you can find that set on ABEbooks for like $250, but eh), so I settled for the four paperbacks themselves. I ordered them through my local-ish indie bookstore, Well Read, since they offer a decent online special-order discount and I always try to toss some business their way.

I even had them delivered to the store, rather than my home, so I could stop in and look around the store. And look! Here they are! For only $81.01, with shipping and tax!

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(Yes, my wife bought me a pair of greyhound bookends. No, it wasn’t her idea. I actually looked around online trying to find a nice set for the library, but she’s better at that than I am.)

Well, mission accomplished! I found the books I want to celebrate the new library! I can go back to austerity mode!

Or can I . . .?

A day after I picked up these Powell books, I got an e-mail from bookcloseouts.com, a book remainder site. I noticed they had some Arden Third Series editions of Shakespeare in stock, so I checked out my books downstairs and realized that there were a dozen of them that I could order to (nearly) give me a full set of Shakespeare’s plays! And with the remainder discount, it would only cost me $93.72 (shipping, no tax).

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(No, I don’t want everything in a single volume; these need to be portable.)

There’s a reason I didn’t already have most of those histories, since they’re supposed to be lesser plays, but now I have ’em! The book-buying can end!

Well, there is that Roman “mini-curriculum” that Tom May sent me last weekend. But I can pick those up in drips and drabs. In fact, I took a half-day today to celebrate (there’s a lot of that) finishing my big Top Companies issue of my magazine, and stopped at the Barnes & Noble on Rt. 17 to see if any of Mr. May’s suggestions were in the used books section in the back of the store. I found a copy of Horace’s Odes for $2.50 (score!) and then I noticed . . . the first twelve volumes of the original Love & Rockets collections, for a little under $5 each!

Since I promised David Townsend back in June that I’d initiate him into the world of Los Bros. Hernandez (as part of my plot to get comic books on the curriculum at St. John’s College), I decided to grab the whole lot of them, write him a little guide for what’s worth reading and what he can skip, and start him on the roads to Hoppers and Palomar!

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(Yeah, they even had the 3×3 gridded square edition, Love & Rockets X.)

Which is to say, stop me before I book-buy again!

Baseball & Shakespeare Update

PDA conference in PHX done! Now to close the “Shakespeare plays read to ballparks visited” spread!

Shakespeare Plays Read

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  2. Antony & Cleopatra
  3. As You Like It
  4. Coriolanus
  5. Hamlet
  6. Henry IV I
  7. Henry IV II
  8. Henry V
  9. King Lear
  10. Macbeth
  11. Merchant of Venice
  12. Much Ado About Nothing
  13. Othello
  14. Richard II
  15. The Tempest
  16. Winter’s Tale

MLB Parks Visited

  1. A’s
  2. Angels
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Braves
  5. Diamondbacks
  6. Mariners
  7. Mets (old)
  8. Orioles
  9. Padres
  10. Phillies (old)
  11. Red Sox
  12. White Sox
  13. Yankees (old)

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Unrequired Reading: Jewel Eye

It’s time for another month’s worth of my tweets from twitter! First the retweets (the ones that begin with RT) and then the marginally more original ones! Remember, you can get these regularly by following groth18!

In honor of July 4th, we’ll start off with a bang!

RT @felixsalmon (Felix Salmon):

 

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RT @radleybalko (Radley Balko) – Letter from Cory Maye

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RT @sharilynj – Read about @marcmaron‘s powerful keynote address, opening up this year’s #JustForLaughs #jfl

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RT @kylevanblerk (Kyle van Blerk) – A bear. Made out of 20,000 zip ties. As you do.

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RT @susanorlean (Susan Orlean) – Wonderful!! “@NewYorkTheaterNiagara Falls lit with colors of rainbow on 1st day of N.Y.’s Marriage Equality

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RT @LettersOfNote – There’s so much to love about this photo of Jimi Hendrix

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RT FishbowlDC – Find out how the bridge of someone’s nose figures into The Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle’s (@asymmetricinfo) interviews.

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I don’t have kids, and that’s why I side with #GayTalese on dropping serious cash on clothes: #notthatIspendTHATmuch

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Because I don’t like kids, that’s why.

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Heartbreaking article about treating vs. screening #DownSyndrome

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Chinese govt. tries to disprove adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: #weallcrashedthetrain

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The art of #RickyGervais.

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The #JewishAutonomousRegion sounds like the Off-World Colonies in Bladerunner: #Jewsinspace

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A Bentley SUV? But what if the NBA lockout doesn’t end soon?

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I’m disappointed the Hercules machine isn’t on this list: #pinball (Hercules is over here)

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Beetlejuice in NJ, via @nycscout

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I thought #PillowTie was the best Skymall product ever, but it’s no match for #DribbleBib

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Oh, look! It’s the scariest goddamned thing ever! #dummyland #ventmyrage

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Oliver’s Army is here to stay: #andiwouldratherbeanywhereelsethanheretoday #cromwell

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Timmy, have you even been in a Norwegian prison?

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The Midgard Serpent sleeps below Park Ave.

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Just #FranLebowitz and her awesome car

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@SimonDoonan on getting married to Jonathan Adler.

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A “thoroughly generic bookstore” (as per my 40th bday post) is closing: #bookberries

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Euroleague’s greatest hoopster is from West Memphis. #MarcusBrown

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Freelove: sister of Increase, mother of Wealthy: #nydutch

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“I’m looking for something hipster-y“: http://nyr.kr/p5opGB

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Can you tell us more often in 1 article that there was no internet in 1981, please? #shittywriting #tigerwoods

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Set taser to #KTFO: #zotz

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The #StopMakingSense fashion collection: #thisisnotmybeautifulcoat (does @davidbyrne know about this?)

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To quote #Nirvana, I think I’m dumb.

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(Hilarious) summer fashion trends, courtesy of @simondoonan.

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Leopard goes ape: #donotconfrontangryleopard

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5 major factors in the #Borders collapse: #bookswithoutborders

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Speaking of: Proving that people surrounded by books can still be total retards: #bookswithoutborders

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Bob Colacello, whose #Warhol memoir Holy Terror I enjoyed the heck out of, auctioned off his portrait by AW.

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On escaping and not escaping #Auschwitz

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Interview Your Own Damn Self!” the #Nabokov way: http://bit.ly/nrtMZQ

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Boy, #SeanBean sure does get killed a lot.

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Transocean: the “I didn’t do it” kid of the gulf oil disaster

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#WoodyAllen on Rilke, selling out Hannah & Her Sisters, and that new movie of his

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Lovely photos of writers & their dogs by #JillKrementz (no greyhounds, I notice)

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“Using .NET is like Fred Flintstone building a database”: Why #Myspace went boom

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Why is weed wacky? #potluck

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M(ormon)BA: Mormons are the new Jews? #wedressbetter

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Does the mind rule the body, or does the body rule the Ren? #renandstimpy

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Holocaust theory: #saturdaynightreading

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Busch-basching: http://buswk.co/pJrg9k

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Peter O’Toole on being awesome. #doublephallicname

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Nothing harder than getting laughs from a room full of comedy writers: http://bit.ly/poW20I

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I miss Karen Allen, but I’m still glad I skipped that last #IndianaJones flick.

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A stoic and a zen buddhist walk into a bar…

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Neat profile of @MaerRoshan that i missed till now: #offmyradar #harhar

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#Hitchens, on the Gandhi myth

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Mob scene: #mafiaTV

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Psst! It’s a secret bookstore! #brazenhead

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Pad See Yew Later, Addiction! #ThaiRehab

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Writer procrastination: (I bought a super-cheap PC laptop and deleted everything but @ommwriter) #mustdisablewifi

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Final meal . . . Cajun-style! (via @wadecortez) http://bit.ly/rukM1M

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Signal-to-noise and old-cooterism, by @binarybits: onforb.es/nRWJTq

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Crisis in Swedish Ballet Training: #WhyILoveMonocle

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The next generation of painkillers will come in small nuggets that you heat up in a pipe and inhale. #drugdelivery

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I still think that #CCTV building’s gonna tip over

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I guess it’s a good thing Brooding Persian isn’t on Twitter. #associationsanddisassociations

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Hegemony from column B: http://bit.ly/ott95H #SinoTheTimes

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Chimpanzee that! He’s a photographer! #GoApe #monkeynews

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@SimonDoonan on the Cute & the Savage: #notanewsoapopera

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Sometimes the gorilla gets the banana, and sometimes the banana gets the gorilla. #GoApe

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Nowhere, special: #NoUtopiaWithoutToddRundgren

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Orwell vs. God

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Building the perfect #KingLear: #Shakespeare

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#WinstonGroom on #TrumanCapote: #getyourmindouttathegutter

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I just want to stay ahead of my illiterate dad: http://bit.ly/kuJPUt (okay, here are all the books I’ve read)

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Chess computers are using PEDs?

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High school time capsule, courtesy of #BourgeoisSurrdender

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In this particular instance, I’ll chose NOT to #belikeMike, thank you: http://bit.ly/iYSriE

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The accordion market gets squeezed: #bwahhaha

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John Lindsay: one suave mofo: #mayorofcool

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To end this month’s installment, I offer 1 Lap of Manhattan in 26 minutes (soundtrack set to Underworld, of course):

What It Is: 8/23/10

What I’m reading: After Bernard Knox’s death last week, I decided to read his introduction to Fagles’ translations of Homer. I found myself bored by them for some reason (probably because of their focus on philology), so I decided to break out my old Richmond Lattimore translation of the Iliad. I don’t think I ever read the intro before (written by Lattimore), choosing instead to dive right into the poem itself. It was illuminating, esp. his segment on how the meter of the poem informs some of the descriptions, as well as his piece on how many of the similes bring everyday life into a poem about war. I decided to dive back into the Iliad, with hopes of sticking through the Odyssey, too, and then rolling into Troilus & Cressida and some of the other Shakespeare plays I haven’t read. The problem is, it’s tough for me to stick with this stuff when I’m not being pushed nowadays. It almost makes me want to start some sorta online book club. I doubt I could put together a Homeric Reading Society of Ringwood, NJ, awesome though that concept would be. I could do what I did with that Montaigne collection, and try to write about it each week, but the Essays are (mostly) self-contained and speak about personal experience in a way that the Iliad and the Odyssey don’t. I think any attempt at writing book-by-book comments on Homer would be a waste of my time, insofar as it would have to involve real scholarship I simply don’t have the time to perform; I’d much rather have a conversation about it. Still, I’m going to reimmerse myself in the wrath of Achilles. I’ll try to let you know what comes of it. Maybe I’ll finally develop some ideas on how we’re supposed to understand the role of the gods in the play (Lattimore’s intro has some helpful comments on that, too.)

What I’m listening to: Greetings from Asbury Park, Spirit of Radio, Wake Up The Nation, and the most awesome single of the year:


What I’m watching: An Education and Whip It,. Comments to come on Tuesday. I hesitate to call them reviews. We also watched that Rush documentary again, because it was on, and because it’s wonderful to see the camaraderie within the band. And you really need to watch Louie.

What I’m drinking: G’Vine Nouaison & Q-Tonic.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Not too much. I didn’t take them on my hikes this weekend, and we decided the Sunday grey-hike was too rainy to deal with.

Where I’m going: NYC this afternoon for a pharma-interview, but no other travels planned.

What I’m happy about: A raver-looking chick behind the register at Ramsey Outdoor told me, “Wow, you have really beautiful eyes,” when I was buying a hat to keep the sun off during hikes.

What I’m sad about: She could’ve been my daughter, if I’d started off young.

What I’m worried about: The doggies’ seeming bout of allergies, which is leading them to nibble on their forelegs and sides at weird hours. I thought they might have fleas, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Amy’s for giving them benadryl, but I’m hoping this’ll pass..

What I’m pondering: Whether I could launch that Homeric Reading Society here in town. “Ringwood Atheneum”?

0-fer: MLB edition

This isn’t a true 0-fer this week, but it does point out my literary failings, which is what I’m all about.

Last night, it occurred to me that the number of ballparks I’ve visited may be greater than the number of Shakespeare plays I’ve read. I checked out both lists this morning and I’m glad to report that’s not the case:

Ballparks I’ve attended:

  1. Anaheim
  2. Baltimore
  3. Boston
  4. New York Yankees (old)
  5. New York Mets (old)
  6. Oakland
  7. Philadelphia (old)
  8. San Diego
  9. Seattle
  10. Toronto

Shakespeare plays I’ve read:

  1. As You Like It
  2. Henry IV, 1
  3. Henry IV, 2
  4. Henry V
  5. Hamlet
  6. King Lear
  7. Macbeth
  8. The Merchant of Venice
  9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  10. Much Ado About Nothing
  11. Othello
  12. Richard II
  13. Romeo and Juliet
  14. The Tempest
  15. Winter’s Tale

I’ll probably see a Braves game when I’m in Atlanta next month, but I also just began reading Antony and Cleopatra, so the deficit will remain at 5. Unless I go on a real Shakespeare binge (which is possible) or get fired and decide to go on that “8 parks in 10 days” tour of midwestern ballparks I plotted out back in 2002 (which is very unlikely (I hope)).

Howzabout you, dear readers? Any of you read fewer plays of Shakespeare than the number of MLB ballparks you’ve visited?

Bonus! NBA arenas I’ve attended:

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Chicago
  3. New Jersey
  4. Toronto
  5. New York
  6. Washington (old)
  7. New Orleans
  8. Dallas