I have a chip on my shoulder because I didn’t go to college. Always have. I got knocked around quite a bit when I first got to New York. People would find out I didn’t have a degree and put me in a tiny box. [People? Who am I kidding. Girls.] I took my meager design skills and somehow managed a career in asset management which, ironically, is an industry that covets employees who have degrees from the most prestigious institutions of higher learning. The pretty girls all wanted budding Managing Directors. That was never going to be me and they smelled it. The stench lines wafted off my resume and into their upturned noses.
To compensate for my deficiencies, I buckled down and started reading. I crammed the classics. The titles you were all obliged to read in college. Now, all these years later, I’m able to talk a pretty good game. To meet me, you wouldn’t think I barely made it through high school and was rejected by a local community college. (Although, admittedly, I still can’t punctuate properly and don’t know a damn thing about the rules of verse).
You can’t go wrong with the classics. To this day, I’ll still read a book out of a sense of obligation. Because it should be read. That’s why they’re called classics! Except in some cases.
I love short story collections. If what you’re reading stinks, just hang in there. It’ll be over in a couple of pages and something new and, hopefully, more compelling will start. To that end, I picked up The Stories of John Cheever. It’s purported to be the penultimate collection by one of the giants of the genre. They’re masterfully written stories but I can’t relate to any of them. Every conflict revolves around the denizens of the Upper East Side or a wealthy suburban hell called Shady Hill. They’re all of the “mother drinks too much at the summer home” variety. Mr. Marston is having an affair with his secretary. They can’t afford the maid anymore. The nanny has misplaced the child. Mrs. Mackenzie was thrown from her horse. And everyone DRINKS to excess. It’s bloody tedious.
Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor
O City of Broken Dreams
The Sorrows of Gin
The Season of Divorce
Don’t those sound like fun? They’re not. Do you know what? John Cheever sucks. Sometimes the experts get it wrong. Stick with Raymond Carver. He’s just as tragic but more earthy.
I recently reread Lolita. The first time I read it, I was in my 20’s. I remember it being an astonishingly well written, humorous, romp across America. A hoot! Well…I have a 12-year old daughter now and I didn’t think it was so goddamn funny this time. Mostly, I’m aghast that I once laughed at it. Plus, I didn’t remember it being so graphic. That being said, it’s still one of my favorite books.
Have you ever reread a book many years later and had a change of heart? I asked Zadie Smith that same question at one of her appearances and she said that while she admired her when she was young, she now finds George Eliot’s Dorothea kind of annoying.
P.S. Kubrick’s Lolita sucks, Peter Sellers and Shelly Winters notwithstanding. Sue Lyon is too old and hot for the role. Lolita was a child.
I don’t have a photo for this post but I always like to include a visual, so here’s an oldie but a goodie.
I was taking pics of our neighbor’s photogenic white cat, Smudge, when, for NO REASON WHATSOEVER, their other cat, Skippy, walked into the frame and BIT HER IN THE EYE! It was an hilarious unprovoked attack. I couldn’t stop laughing. Cats are the best.