Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thoughts on To a Young Friend Charged With Possession of the Classics

The prose of William H. Gass is capable of evoking many emotions, the most notable of which is pure joy. This man has such an unbridled passion for the written word and such a keen understanding of its raw power when executed effectively, that one cannot help but to become overwhelmed and a little weak in the knees when confronted with unintentionally self-referential observations like this:

"Thinking produces its own endorphins, and encountering a fine thought is as thrilling as the sight of the bluebird, partly because both have been threatened with extinction."

Weak in the knees may seem like an exaggerated response to such an ostensibly benign grouping of words, but this is precisely the effect elicited in my particular case. No alcohol was consumed to facilitate the process. It is the ability of Gass to evoke what it means to experience the persistently elusive 'moment of clarity'. The capability of a precise grouping of words to achieve this desired effect is admittedly a notion that I have never before considered to be as true as it rings here. But Gass is right: the thrill is undeniable, and it can be attributed to a chosen few words put in splendid order by a thriving mind. It cannot be found while sitting in the local Starbucks, listening to menopausal women discuss the South Beach Diet, nor can it be found while riding on the streetcar tucked in beside a surly unkempt troglodyte. Edification cannot be found in either place. It can, though, be readily accessible: it is as close as the volume that lies against one's side within the shoulder bag that you take everywhere. Gass has something further to say on the matter:

"It is we who must do [books] honor by searching for our truth there, by taking their heart as our heart, by refusing to let our mind flag so that we close their covers together, and spend our future forgetting them, denying the mind's best moments."

It is advice to be heeded and acted upon forthwith, and never to be stopped.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


I'm trying hard to believe that Leah McLaren is not Toronto's latest literary darling, but try as I might, the evidence is pointing to the contrary. No less than three separate occasions forced me to come face to face with some aspect of Leah today. First, her predictably egomaniacal column in the Style section of the Globe, in which today she solicits her first novel with a sufficiently ennui-ridden excerpt. Later, my literary sensibilities are affronted while making my way into Book City in the Annex, the reason for which is an entire display window devoted to the above mentioned book. I stop dead in my tracks, despite prolonged and uncomfortable exposure to the inclement weather. A part of me wants to smash that window and destroy that display for no good reason, aside from, 'It was not supposed to be this way!'. Okay, so I get past my initial furor of shock and disdain, make my way into the shop, and re-emerge some time later, glad to have discovered and claimed this, this, and this, but also glad to have completely avoided any further evidence of Leah. Except, when I am about to descend onto the rain-swept windscape of Bloor Street, trying to get my affairs in order before embarking on an expedited journey to the subway, who do I see on the cover of Frank magazine but she once more. The only saving grace is that she is undoubtedly being ridiculed in the latter.

I have not quite figured out why the whole matter enrages me so, whether it is some sick form of jealousy, or else just displeasure at the prospect of one more mediocre book to sift through while searching out the real gems on the remainder table in approximately six months time.


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