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LONDON, ONTARIO – In the end they couldn’t get a 50th anniversary edition of the Woodstock festival off the ground last weekend in upstate New York and perhaps that’s just as well. I was not relishing the prospect of watching that saucy young minx, Katy Perry, share a bill with however many surviving members of Country Joe and the Fish could still manage to cradle an instrument in their laps and croak out the never-more imminent proclamation, “Whoopee, we’re all gonna die”.
Distracted once again with the rigours of summer holidaying, here’s a five year-old piece from The London Yodeller about summer reading and outfitting the rising generation with an appreciation for the classics.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Can we all agree that at least until they achieve something resembling the age of reason, grandchildren can be a bit of a challenge to shop for? Early in my marriage I learned (frankly with great relief) that men – or at least this one – should never try to buy clothes for other human beings. I don’t seem to have an eye or a sense for the whole size and ‘will it fit?’ thing. And, even more fundamental than that not inconsiderable flaw, I am reliably informed (and reluctantly convinced) that I have perfectly appalling taste in matters sartorial anyway. Just because it’s the kind of garment I’d like to see people wear, doesn’t mean any sane person would willingly put it on except at gunpoint.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Though I read him a lot – and very avidly indeed – through the 1980s and ‘90s, it’s been a while since I’ve splashed about in that bracing fount of caustically humorous wisdom that goes by the name of Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956). Every thinking man’s favourite contrarian claimed that he always wrote for his own pleasure, to attain “that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.” And it shows. No matter how cantankerous or upsetting his dispatches from the front line of politics, religion or the arts might be – and whether you agree with him or not – the reader almost always feels an accompanying pleasure at seeing an insight or a contention so vividly and aptly expressed.
The grandkids are in town and to mark another summer’s apex, we dig into the tickle trunk for an essay from July of 1990 . . . .
LONDON, ONTARIO – What is this strange allegiance I feel for Lake Erie? It’s one of those instinctive and perhaps inexplicable preferences – like dogs or cats, red or white wine, mittens or gloves – that seems to reveal something deeply significant about any Londoner when he’s forced to choose between a beach on Erie or Huron as his personal favourite.
LONDON, ONTARIO – I have twice been persuaded, against my instincts, to join a political party; both times so I could have a vote in nominating a candidate I admired for the federal Conservatives in my riding of London North Centre. Both experiences turned out to be so wretchedly disheartening for everyone involved that I think I’ve finally learned my lesson and hereby take the pledge to never again take out another party membership.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Here’s an encounter I had about 35 years ago which I’ve called to mind so frequently over the years that I think I must regard it as emblematic; as one of my first encounters with an obnoxious tendency that has only proliferated since then. I was standing with a crowd of other human beings at a transfer point at Dundas and Richmond one afternoon, waiting for nearly all of the riders to disembark from a very full bus before we’d be able to file on.
LONDON, ONTARIO – I learned a valuable, lifetime lesson from an act of literary spoliation I unconsciously committed around the age of 18. Blown away by the magnificence of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, I immediately and successively raced through every novel of Mordecai Richler’s that I could lay my hands on and within a couple of months – surprise, surprise – I had utterly OD’d on the man. While I still objectively acknowledge Richler as one of Canada’s bravest and most wickedly funny writers, I was never able to take up any of the subsequent novels of his later maturity – I’m talking here about everything that followed St. Urbain’s Horeseman – without accompanying pangs of queasiness and ennui that were entirely owing to my past impetuosity as a reader and had nothing to do with Richler’s very considerable skills as a writer. The lesson I learned nearly half a century ago is that greedily burning your way through anyone’s entire oeuvre like a pack of cigarettes lit end to end, is no way to treat an author and will almost certainly put you off a good thing.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Prompted by a glowing commendation this spring by David Warren on his Essays in Idleness website, I finally read Sigrid Undset’s (1882–1949) triple-decker saga of life in Medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter. Originally published in three installments – The Bridal Wreath (1923), The Mistress of Husaby (1925), and The Cross (1927) – Kristin Lavransdatter was collectively awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. In that essay, Mr. Warren was insistent that an English reader who wanted the richest possible Lavransdatter experience, must seek out the original translation by Charles Archer and J.S. Scott and avoid the streamlined, mildly sexed-up revamping by one Tiina Nunnally which is being peddled by Penguin Books today.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Abandoned at home for 90 hours of uninterrupted bachelor slovenliness this week, I was able to take a deep dive into my own journalistic archives and was, in turn, engrossed, surprised, appalled and delighted by what I found down there. As I waved my wife goodbye and strapped on my spelunking gear, I had a few definite items in mind that I was searching for and did indeed locate over the course of almost four days. But here’s what made this week so special. Once I committed to dropping down that hole, all manner of lost writings and red herrings came swarming into view and because I wasn’t expected anytime soon to come back up to cook or talk or change a lightbulb, I got yanked away in every possible direction and reacquainted myself with subterranean caverns and nooks that I hadn’t visited or considered in years.
LONDON, ONTARIO – For a good few years now, I’ve wanted to write a Father’s Day essay focusing not on what magnificent, homage-worthy creatures dads are – though indeed many are and my own was not the least among them – but on the salutary effect that creating and helping to raise a crop of kids can have on a chap. Now that my work in this field of high honour would appear to be about 97.3% completed, I wish to review some of what I discovered and gratefully acknowledge what a thrilling and fulfilling adventure it has been to help prepare three worthy and lovable souls to make their way in the world.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :