The Scholarly Life
A few days ago during Dour Hour down at Pandora’s Tavern I brought a book with me to kill whatever time remained. As often happens, I got distracted by things overheard in the tenebrous gloom of the joint. Sometimes it’s the voice of nature, sometimes it’s just pangs of regret, occasionally it’s the death rattle of reason, but mostly it’s nothing at all.
In any case, when it was time to go I forgot to take my book. This particular volume is a favorite of mine and I wanted it back, so this morning I went down to Pandora’s Tavern to fetch it. The bartender was saving it for me. Since I was already there and, as usual, had nothing better to do, I ordered a cup of coffee and flipped open my book to do some idle reading.
That’s when I discovered the pages had been savagely annotated in claret-colored ink by some over-educated barfly. For example, on page 200 you’ll find these words by the book’s author: “There is nothing more ingenious or more loyal than the way in which Proust nonchalantly and constantly strives to tell the reader: Redemption is my private show.” I like this passage just the way it is. But our barfly had scratched these trifling words into the margin: “Nowadays with social media, redemption plays no role whatsoever in our private shows—all we have is an extended, wearisome, uninspired naval-gazing, as if Narcissus were so overcome with ennui he couldn’t even rise from bed, much less take a walk in the woods to chance upon a gazing pond.”
Now you might wonder what kind of person would have the audacity to scrawl such paltry musings among the lofty cogitations of a highly respected author. But not me. I just say “WTF!”—which is the same thing I used to say back when I was spending lots of time prowling the stacks in the libraries of big research universities. Rare was the book I pulled from a shelf not ravaged by the pens of aspiring pedants, generations and generations of them. Anyway, I fumed over the desecration of my book all the way home.
When I got there Catherine could see something was bothering me. I told her the whole sorry story and how pissed off I was. She wanted to see the book for herself. So I opened it to page 200 and handed it over. She looked at it and said, “Isn’t that your handwriting?” Woops. Indeed it is. Then she added: “You should learn how to spell.”
From now on I won’t be taking any books with me to Dour Hour down at Pandora’s Tavern.