Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Am I Alone Here?

I've just gotten my copy of Peter Orner's brilliant, odd, addictive book, Am I Alone Here? and want to sit in the sun and read it with a glass of hibiscus (jamaica) iced tea.  No sun  was apparent until about two o'clock but now it's back and I can divest my grey vest and welcome some warmth. The cover of the book shows stickies saying "notes on living to read" and "reading to live." Orner's crafted a memoir about living and reading. His authors are heavy hitters: Chekhov, Kafka, Welty, Walser, Juan Rulfo, Carver, Cheever, Berriault, Angela Carter and William Trevor. I turn to a later chapter where he says "I refuse to indulge in the senseless sport of ranking writers. Literature isn't rankable. It's us. Good, bad, moving, brilliant, tasteless, all of it is us." But he goes on to remind us " that while Herman Melville was toiling in the Customs House trying to pay off his bills, J. T. Headley, Charles Briggs and Fanny Forrester were the toast of literary America." He praises a favorite of Martha's, Gina Berriault's Women in Their Beds which he likes to have in every room.

When I was graduating from college and trying to decide where to turn in the next junction of my life, I took a standardized test which asked a number of questions on preferences to determine how your answers match those of people in specific fields. (Would you rather go to a party or stay home and read a book?) It was not any kind of aptitude or talent assessment, just amenability. I answered most like nightclub entertainers and librarians. I answered least like military officers. Had I paid attention to the tests, I would have gone right into the library science program at UW and retired a lot earlier with a bigger nest egg. Instead, I pursued an international marketing degree struggling through the statistics and accounting requirements to come up with no particular skills, experience or inclination other than a fondness for speaking Portuguese and reading Latin literature. And I ended up working the last twenty years working contentedly in reference at the library. Berriault says in The Infinite Passion of Expectation: "Always remember to contradict your teachers. It makes good biography." 

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