In the latest adventure in bedtime reading, I’ve just started Master and Commander, the first in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series; if my wife likes it enough, it should keep us occupied for some time, since there are twenty novels in the series. A minor problem is that she found it too absorbing to fall asleep, but after I stopped she drifted off readily enough, and the prose is such a delight to read I hope and trust she’ll want to continue. Here’s a sample passage from the opening scene, in which Lieutenant Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy, temporarily without a ship, is enjoying a string quartet a little too enthusiastically (he has already been chidden by his neighbor for beating the measure with his hand):
The minuet set Jack’s head wagging with its insistent beat, but he was wholly unconscious of it; and when he felt his hand stirring on his breeches and threatening to take to the air he thrust it under the crook of his knee. It was a witty, agreeable minuet, no more; but it was succeeded by a curiously difficult, almost harsh last movement, a piece that seemed to be on the edge of saying something of the very greatest importance. The volume of sound died away to the single whispering of a fiddle, and the steady hum of low conversation that had never stopped at the back of the room threatened to drown it: a soldier exploded in a stifled guffaw and Jack looked angrily around. Then the rest of the quartet joined the fiddle and all of them worked back to the point from which the statement might arise: it was essential to get straight back into the current, so as the ‘cello came in with its predictable and necessary contribution of pom, pom-pom-pom, poom, Jack’s chin sank upon his breast and in unison with the ‘cello he went pom, pom-pom-pom, poom. An elbow drove into his ribs and the sound shshsh hissed in his ear. He found that his hand was high in the air, beating time; he lowered it, clenched his mouth shut and looked down at his feet until the music was over. He heard the noble conclusion and recognized that it was far beyond the straightforward winding-up that he had foreseen, but he could take no pleasure in it.
Somehow my throat doesn’t tire quickly when I read that kind of writing.
By the way, my wife and her sister had their hair cut this morning, and while waiting to join them for lunch I had time to kill at Amherst Books; fortunately or unfortunately, I wandered into an area I had not heretofore investigated and found an entire section of Russian/Soviet Studies books I hadn’t seen before. The hour flew by before I could go through more than half the section, but I wound up lugging half a dozen books to the restaurant: Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture, by Mikhail Epshtein, Alexander Genis, and Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover; Majakovskij and His Neologisms, by Assya Humesky (aka Ася Сергеевна Гумецкая); The Silver Age of Russian Culture, edited by Carl and Ellendea Proffer; Russia and the Middle East: Towards a New Foreign Policy, by Talal Nizameddin (publisher’s price $105.00, originally marked by the bookstore at $75, finally marked down to $2.98!); and two books by Leskov, The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories (a nice old Progress Publishers hardback) and Satirical Stories of Nikolai Leskov (with very helpful introductions and notes—Leskov is not an easy read). Oh, and lunch was excellent; I recommend Thai Corner next time you’re in Amherst.