Three Books (50 cents)

Reading Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers took quite some time. In my edition, it runs two volumes and over 1000 pages, and it requires a slow, somewhat rhythmic reading, not a quick run-through. One of Dickens’ earlier works, it was originally published in serial form, and the reading of it in that manner would probably provide a very different experience.

Pickwick, educated, alone and monied, decides to travel around England, pen and paper in hand, to get to know and report on how the world really functions. Three of his young friends (Pickwick himself is probably in his forties) join him, and they form the Pickwick Club and head off for adventure and education and perhaps to make the world a somewhat better place.

They quickly learn that it is impossible to remain only an observer and they become part of every situation they encounter. Reading the book is a delight, as you follow the club members (along with Pickwick’s man servant, whom he picks up along the way)through a series of loosely connected, always humorous incidents. Yes, it’s like Don Quixote tilting at windmills and so many other early picaresque novels, but it’s also Curb Your Enthusiasm, as every well meaning gesture is misinterpreted with almost disastrous consequences. Such as when Pickwick asks a series of questions of his landlady, the widowed Mrs. Bardell, who misinterprets his questions (like ‘would it be a good thing for me to have a loyal companion with me at all times?’) as a lead up to a marriage proposal, rather than simply seeking advice as to whether Pickwick should engage a manservant. This leads to a breach of promise suit, encounters with London’s most rapacious attorneys, and some of its least competent ones, a trial with stumbling witnesses, a unanticipated verdict, and a spell in a horrific, but at the same time surprisingly relaxed debtors’ prison, because Pickwick refused to pay any amount owing if any portion of the payment went to the lawyers. Or the time Pickwick chases the comically evil Jingle after he absconds with the wealthy 50 year old spinster presumably to get at her money, only to have Jingle, several chapters later, trick Pickwick to believe he is about to elope with another wealthy, although this time quite young, woman, so that Pickwick goes to extremes to make sure this crime never occurs. Of course, it never was to occur, and only Pickwick thinks it will, so you can imagine the resulting confusion and embarrassment.

Written in the 1830s, the book gives you an interesting picture of rural English society of the time. Clearly, it’s a diversionary read, but very worthwhile.

From there, I turned about 180 degrees and read actress Cybill Shepherd’s 2000 memoir, Cybill Disobedience. Why, I am not sure, except that I picked it up and started reading.

Not that I knew anything about Cybill Shepherd.

A strange book, I thought. Shepherd grew up in Memphis, and the references to life in Memphis in the 1960s were interesting. Becoming sexually active at an early age, she hid this from her family, as she entered local beauty contests, winning some, and started on a modeling career accompanied by her mother at first. A bright woman, an avid reader, she had little schooling, but because of her looks, got the chance to enter the movie business, gaining a starring role in The Last Picture Show, without having had any previous acting experience or training. She also fell in love with director Peter Bogdanovich, and he with her, breaking up his marriage and leading to several years of cohabitation. She was cast in several other movies, but much of her career was very disappointing, and she moved from man to man, from marriage to marriage, in and out of Memphis, for years until she wound up with two successful television series, and became a spokesperson for various women’s issues.

So, why do I say the book is strange? Well, Shepherd spends a lot of time praising her own beauty, but criticizing everything else about herself, such as her talent, and particularly her ability to get along with co-workers and (often) their spouses. She is obviously someone who is a challenge to work with, but she seems to have a perverse pride in noting everything bad that anyone has ever said about her.

She has traveled in some very interesting circles. Her life with Bogdanovich, her datesff with Elvis Presley and all the rest. But is she someone I would like to be stranded on a desert island with? I don’t think so.

Lastly, I read Martin Amis’s short novel, Night Train, a tale told in the first person by a female detective whose boss’ daughter, young, successful, beautiful and presumably extremely happy is found dead, shot through the mouth, in her apartment o e day, a presumed suicide. I enjoyed the thought process as the detective follows the clues surrounding the death, and really had only one problem with the book. I am not sure that Amis made q good choice in making his protagonist female. Because he couldn’t pull it off. I kept thinking she was a he, correcting myself, and then immediately thinking she was a he again. And why did he name her Mike and name her boyfriend Tobe? Maybe there is an entire level that passed me by.

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