In Praise of Anticipation


Anticipation. Great 70s song by Carly Simon, yes. And almost ruined by her ill-advised agreement to lend it to a ketchup company for an ad. But still, there’s nothing quite like anticipation. It has the same salutatory effects on life as a massage does on the body.

Exhibit one is the contrast between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and you can look through the lens of a child or an adult. On the Eve, everything is ahead of you, bigger than life. Anticipation multiplies the number of gifts you receive. It increases their size and value. It takes every glinting light on the tree, in the windows, and atop a candle wick and makes of it a holiday brushfire to warm the sugarplums of your heart.

The Day? Rip. Tear. Oh, that’s it? And then the aftermath, when every decoration in the house is less a festive source of cheer and more a visual reminder of work to be done: putting Christmas, already stale, thankfully away.

Let’s consider books, shall we? I read about new books all the time on Goodreads, in The New York Times, and in the Boston Globe. The descriptions whet my parched literary appetite. I go to the interlibrary loan page on the Internet and, with relish (I see a condiment theme developing here) put holds on dozens of books.

In short, my to-read eyes are bigger than my time-to-read clock. The books come in. The books wait in their lonely tower at home while I trudge off to the mines each morning. I read upon my return but, like Christmas Day, most of the books disappoint without the pixie dust of anticipation to burnish their credentials.

And so it goes. Shopping at the grocery store for this healthy vegetable and that healthy fruit in anticipation of a new page in diet? All good and anticipation at its best until, weeks later, the wilted produce must be given its 21-gun salute and burial in the garbage. Minus the anticipation, there’s the pain of preparation and challenge of taste, you see.

“This is going to be so-o-o-o good. Can’t wait!” It’s the kid in you, over and over. Anticipation is a gift of childhood that follows you into adulthood. Don’t banish it. Luxuriate in it, even if it eventually comes to naught. Life isn’t overloaded with pleasures, after all, and as Carly reminds us in the golden refrain: “These are the good old days.”


Falling Off the Wagon

DidYouEverHaveaFamily_1Book Buyers Anonymous. Or in this case, not-so-anonymous. A new book with a drumbeat of pretty blurbs? Like catnip to the cat, my friends.

Last year I vowed to save my groaning bookshelf (it speaks Spanish — “No mas! No mas!”) and my hollow wallet by using the interlibrary loan privileges at my local library. It’s been working out pretty well, too, even if my drives to work and food markets do not take me past my local library, inconveniently enough.

Then I read something like this:

Fall Fiction and Nonfiction Suggestions

This is cruelty, plain and simple. Do we pour a foamy beer in front of the alcoholic? Walk down Fifth Avenue with a shopaholic? Light up in front of the cold-turkey who quit smoking? No. But I’ve only myself to blame. Did I really have to read those descriptions? Did I really have to open a new window to amazon, where I could read more reviews and blurbs while noticing the special, new-book discount?

Rhetorical questions are a wonderful thing. Until they look like rationalizations. There I was reading all about the horribly-named novel Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. Really. It sounds like a Dr. Seuss book or something. And yet… and yet… catnip! Snared by the whiskers!

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Next thing you know I see The Art of Memoir. Me, a guy who can’t resist the siren call of books about books or books about writing books. Mary Karr, yet! An author and poet I admire!

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And just like that, my resolution lies a beaten vow on the floor. Pulverized. Bleeding through the hardwood cracks. Forgive me, Father, for I have bought. For these and all my sins, I am heartily sorry.

Until tomorrow when my new books arrive…

If You Build It, You Will Read…

tbrPerry Como may think Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but what does he know? In truth, late June wins that accolade. With school winding down in a sodden heap of unmotivated humidity, I traditionally turn my attention to whiling away the months of July and August with books.

This is when I get carried away and, like a grandparent bent on spoiling as an inherent right, look the other way as I click CART on amazon or pull the plastic in some brick-and-mortar bookstore. Often my “beach reads” are leviathans of a sort — books I’d get bogged down in during the school year because their pages require duration, momentum, and moxie.

Tops on my behemoths this year? Robert Fagles’ The Odyssey. It’s been so long since I traveled to Ithaca that I’m not sure I ever did. These are the deceptions of age, when your reading legacy is as much speculation as it is historic record. And there’s something to be said for a warder named Calypso, especially in the summer months.

Another big boy I’m not sure I’ll take to (and I reserve the right to give up, especially in the summer) is The Three Leaps of Wang Lun — a futurist novel about China written by a German. (Can you say “impulse buy”?). It’s the type of thing I will stubbornly love or toss into the lake as largemouth bass chum.

There are no such worries about my fourth trip down Knausgaard Lane. Like the three before it, My Struggle, Book Four will undoubtedly hold its navel-gazing charms. Young Karl Ove is now a teenager, so all Norwegian (by way of Sweden) bets will be off. Like big Harry Potter books, these gentle giants go down easily.

It wouldn’t be summer without a teacher PD book (I’m a hopeless addict of finding a better way, even though I realize by now that “better ways” are like the Northwest Passage — elusive). I’ve got it narrowed down to either Teach Like a Pirate or Assessment 3.0. Or both.

I’ve read some pretty big poetry collections lately — Louise Gluck, Wislawa Szymborska, and Charles Simic, to name a few. I’m casting about for more in July. If you’re going to speak the language (write it), you’d better listen to the language (read it). Calypso told me that. In between grapes.

Finally, each summer I like to entertain one reread. The criteria? Simple. I must have read it long ago, loved it, and flat-out forgotten it. This year the nominee is (drum roll, please!) The Sheltering Sky.

I’m also forever patching my leaky female-author resume. This year, thanks to countless recommendations, that honor goes to Muriel Sparks’ The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (who by now must be well past her prime). A Goodbye, Mrs. Chips, maybe? Summer school of a sort? Whatever. It’s short and fits the bill.

Will there be more?

Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full. All I need is time — and more summer.