Sunday, June 26, 2011

vacation reading

(If you can think of a more anodyne title for this post, by all means forward it my way.)

So we're a good deal into our summer vacation, at the moment squatting in some friends' apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, and having spent a week on Fire Island. I didn't bring many books. I didn't want to look at anything resembling "work," to be frank. But I read a couple of excellent volumes of contemporary poetry (Devin King and a forthcoming Elizabeth Robinson, as well as Don Revell's forthcoming translations of Laforgue – all of which might be blogged sometime); I finished the Carcanet Selected Poems of Swinburne, some 13 years after buying it for 5000 lire in Florence, of all places; I took immense pleasure from Dickens's Hard Times.

On a visit to the one shop in our corner of the island where they sell actual books, I impulsively plunked down $5.99 for a Bantam Classics edition of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty & Utilitarianism. What the hell, I thought. I've always wanted to read these works, & here they are in a handy – if not "scholarly" edition. If I ever have cause to quote Mill, I can check him against the Penguin I have at home.

I've finished On Liberty – tho I must have read it sometime in the past, it all felt so familiar – and am a bit into Utilitarianism. Two things strike me: 1) Whatever the grammar nazis of our own day might say, JSM has no compunctions about using the pronoun "they" to refer to a singular antecedent, and 2) JSM got the term "utilitarianism" from some passage in John Galt's Annals of the Parish (1821) – one of my favorite romantic-era novels, a lovely, genial work that everybody should know.

Of course, there were a couple of irritants to this reading experience, as well. One, which I'll pass over entirely, is the fact that the volume sports an intensely banal, self-serving, & at times deeply misguided introduction by that prize jackass Alan Dershowitz, who writes as tho he's pleased that Bantam Books at least have finally admitted that he and John Stuart Mill are in the same intellectual league. The second came towards the end of On Liberty, in a passage in which Mill is enumerating dispositions that constitute "moral vices":
the love of domineering over others; the desire to engross more than one's share of advantages (the [greek] of the Greeks.
Huh? Happily, as I read this passage late one night in the chilly late-Spring air, the sound of the breakers in one ear and the buzz of the mosquitoes in the other, I could pluck up my smart phone and google the words of the passage as a whole. What Mill wrote, of course, was "(the pleonexia of the Greeks)" (tho Mill used Greek characters for my italics).

Proofreading, at least for "classic" texts, seems to be a long-lost business, an obligation more honored in the [greek]* than in the [greek]**.

What I didn't bring along was my copy of Middlemarch, which I'm now finishing up on the Kindle that the girls gave me for Father's Day. Let's not get into an argument over whether I should have gotten a Nook, or a Slate, or Ba'al help us an iPad. I wanted something minimal; I wanted something easy; I got a Kindle. First impressions:
•Yes, it's easy, and the reading experience is just fine.

•It's clearly designed, and will probably be used by me, for reading novels and "light" nonfiction. It seems fairly hopeless for poetry (line breaks, long lines, etc.), and certainly serious scholarship is out of the question.

•Yes, one can load it with PDFs – but with mixed results. I'm reading one friend's massive ms-in-progress, and a student's MFA thesis, and they're working out just fine. Some of the scholarly articles I've loaded on it read well; others (double-columned PMLA things, for instance), are a pain in the arse. The bootlegged PDF of LZ's "A" that was all over the internets year before last is pretty unreadable. That's okay; I seem to have a copy or two of that book around the house. I anticipate its being pretty useful when it comes to carrying bundles of papers on the road, tho. We've been requiring job candidates to submit their materials in PDF form lately, & I recall the last time I chaired a search & had to haul a dozen candidates' files across the country to the MLA conference in my briefcase. Being able to load all that on a Kindle would certainly relieve me of that backache.
Ultimately, I suspected I'll mostly use this slate-gray wonder by loading it up with big public-domain Victorian novels. The scans aren't great, but they're quite okay. I've only caught a couple of "Balstrode"s for "Bulstrode" in the 100 pages or so of Middlemarch, and I'm quite able to shrug off the clearly non-Eliotian paragraph breaks that dot the text. Okay, so the chapter epigraphs often get altered from lineated verse to prose, but I can live with that. In short, it's not going to relieve much shelf-space at home, but it'll make travel reading – and beach reading, for that matter – a good deal easier.

1 comment:

Raymond Gibson said...

I've got a copy of Peter Dale's Laforgue translations if you want to borrow it. —Ray