Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Saturday miscellany

{Photos by rocketlass.}

Some reading notes for your Saturday, held together, as you'll see, by the slimmest of threads:

1 As longtime readers of this blog know, I'm fascinated by the topic of dreams. So I've been paying particular attention to Shelley's dreams as I've been reading Richard Holmes's biography of the poet this past week. Shelley was a troubled sleeper from childhood, prone to sleepwalking and vivid dreams--and quite possibly, depending which of his friends you believe, waking visions--that fueled his poetic embrace of the ghostly and the macabre. At one point in the biography, Holmes quotes a passage from an account by Shelley's cousin Tom Medwin that reads like a cross between Borges and the Arabian Nights:
At this time Shelley was ever in a dreamy state, and he told me he was in the habit of noting down his dreams. The first day he said, they amounted to a page, the next to two, the third to several, till at last they constituted the greater part of his existence.
While the thought of the writing of a dream journal consuming one's life is scary enough, after that the account moves into the positively uncanny:
One morning he told me he was satisfied of the existence of two sorts of dreams, the Phrenic and the Psychic; and that he had witnessed a singular phenomenon, proving that the mind and soul were separate and different entities--that it had more than once happened to him to have a dream, which the mind was pleasantly and actively developing; in the midst of which, it was broken off by a dream within a dream--a dream of the soul, to which the mind was not privy; but that from the effect it produced--the start of horror with which he waked--must have been terrific.
2 Which leads me to a dream I had last week: I was in a boat, possibly a police launch, cruising purposefully up the East River on a chilly night. We were looking for a body . . . and Nero Wolfe was with us. I think that's how I realized that it was a dream: no force on earth, I told myself, could get Nero Wolfe to leave his townhouse and board a boat for a wintry nighttime cruise up the East River. That said, I bet he would have found what we were looking for had I only stayed asleep a little longer.

3 Speaking of Nero Wolfe, he tosses off a line in Some Buried Caesar that's been lingering in my mind since I read the novel a couple of weeks ago. Dismissing some complaints about a ruse he'd employed, he says,
Victor Hugo wrote a whole book to prove that a lie could be sublime.
I'm far from a Hugo expert, and a tiny bit of research didn't turn up any obvious answers, so I put the question to the audience: what book is Wolfe talking about?

4 Though I've only lost about half a dozen books in my life, strangely enough two of them were Victor Hugo novels: back in high school, I had mass market paperbacks of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and both of them disappeared when I was partway through them. Perhaps one of my classmates was a secret Hugo fan?

I've thus never finished either one, though I'll admit that my enjoyment of ridiculously long books has led me to eye Les Miserables at the bookstore on occasion--I'm willing to listen to arguments on its behalf if anyone has any to offer.

5 Finally, on the topic of books I've never finished: nearly four years ago I read about four hundred pages of The Count of Monte Cristo while on a weekend road trip. I was surprised to find that nearly everything I knew about the novel--the frame-up, the imprisonment, the escape--happened in the first three hundred or so of those pages, which were great fun, on par with the best parts of The Three Musketeers. But the next hundred pages proved a bit of a slog: where I was expecting the Count to instantly and implacably begin wreaking vengeance, instead he embarked on a series of improbable picaresque adventures. So I put the book away, unsure that I had the patience for another nine hundred pages of such swashbuckling.

So, I ask any Monte Cristo fans out there: was I wrong? Should I take up the Count's story once more?

6 Now that I think about it, this list comes distressingly close to being a perfect example of how my mind works: I may not be a social butterfly, but I plead guilty to being a mental one.


  1. I read Les Miserables in Detroit in 1998, it coincided with the Al Qaeda bombings at the US embassies in Africa and the Irish being awarded the Nobel for the Good Friday Accord. I was in New Orleans a couple years later and found some student doe eyed about such at a bar; I told him the novel was maudlin, but deserving of immortality.

  2. Wrong, what is wrong? But my appreciation of Monte Cristo can be found here.

  3. Oh, you've both tempted me now; I may only have to take two books on my next vacation.

    Amateur Reader, your Monte Cristo posts could serve as a definition of the glory of glories that is the Internet: I ask a question, vaguely and casually, and I get back an answer that is detailed, thoughtful, and shot through with a sense of personality. Well done.

  4. Hi Levi
    Long time reader of your post, first time contributor
    You should read The Count as it is one of the great stories and it definitely picks up, although it's hard to beat his education and escape from prison.
    You should also read it as i started reading A Dance to the music of time based on your owe me!!

  5. You have a beautiful blog! I read Les Mis in Dublin in 1995. What a wonderful book.

  6. Nero Wolfe would SINK that boat.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, Marie and guy--and for the recommendation. I think together you've all convinced me to try the Count and Les Mis again.

    But I think everyone will agree, on this thread: it's JRSM FTW! Well played, sir. Well played.

  8. Gosh, well, shucks... I don't know where to start with my thanks...