Friday, March 16, 2007

These Pages Must Show

I'm a voracious reader. A portion of my daily life is spent reading and I make a concerted effort not to limit myself to only a handful of topics or genres. I tend to keep several books queued for future reading and will often quickly complete a couple of non-fiction selections, in a few sittings, while simultaneously enjoying a slow thoughtful journey through a detailed work of fiction that may take a solid month, or more, depending on it's girth. Sometimes, the exact opposite is true.

To me, a good book is a book that can make you laugh out loud, experience sharp intakes of breath or feel wonderfully content and yet, slightly forlorn once completed. There are several books that I've read six or seven times, at least, and upon each reading, I find that my progress tends to grow slower and slower as I approach the end in a contradictory effort to postpone the inevitable. I'm funny like that.

One of my favorite authors of all time is Charles Dickens and even though my list of favorite books is always changing to mirror my mood, "David Copperfield" is always present and also happens to be the point of this long, seemingly endless, selfish ramble. One of the characters in "David Copperfield" is a coachman, Mr Barkis, who is pleasant enough and eventually marries Mrs. Peggotty, a servant to David's family. Some time later, Mr. Barkis becomes ill (very rheumatic) and during a visit from David they have an exchange of which this is a portion:

'And I don't regret it,' said Mr. Barkis. 'Do you remember what you told me once, about her making all the apple parsties and doing all the cooking?'

'Yes, very well,' I returned.

'It was as true,' said Mr. Barkis, 'as turnips is. It was as true,' said Mr. Barkis, nodding his nightcap, which was his only means of emphasis, 'as taxes is. And nothing's truer than them.'

Mr. Barkis turned his eyes upon me, as if for my assent to this result of his reflections in bed; and I gave it.

'Nothing's truer than them,' repeated Mr. Barkis; 'a man as poor as I am, finds that out in his mind when he's laid up. I'm a very poor man, sir!'

I have no idea where the phrase 'true as turnips' originates but it has remained with me since I first read the book. I have searched numerous times and can find no other reference to the phrase, other than Dickens', and have resigned myself to the fact that the phrase was either a little-known geographical colloquialism from the mid 1800's or an invention to comfortably fit the character that was Mr. Barkis. I prefer the later which is why I chose to title this blog as I have with the notion of paying my respects to Mr. Dickens while simultaneously creating something that is a comfortable fit to the character that is me.

Thanks to Chris, The Scottish Lemon, for asking.

And by the way, the title for this post comes from the first line of the book:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.


Chris said...

Thanks for sharing that.

I'm sad to admit I've never read any Dickens. In fact there are very few 'classics' that I have read. When I really started reading for enjoyment rather that for school the first book I picked up was a Tom Clancy novel and I got hooked on that genre, and from there moved to Robert Ludlum.

When I lived in Vancouver I had lots of time to read as I commuted via the sky train so would be able to get close to an hours reading each day.

Now that I've moved to Glasgow I walk every where and work is so busy I don't have much time to read anymore and as a result it's taking me forever to finish a book. Any reading I've done in the last 2 months has been while sitting in an airport.

I miss reading. I do intend to get back into the habit once life settles down into a less chaotic routine.

John Taylor said...

hi chris
I always think of Mark Twain's definition of a 'classic': "A book which people praise and don't read"

Clancy and Ludlum are very good - I've read quite a few of their books, as well. If you are partial to that genre I highly recommend Trevanian's books - the two 'sanction' novels (including 'The Eiger Sanction') are good but my favorite is 'Shibumi' - give them a shot when time permits.

And speaking of time - I understand not having the time to read - I've found myself in the same situation and it took me a while to realize that my stress levels were rising simply because I wasn't setting aside time to read. I guess it's like a type of meditation where I forget about everything else for a brief period and my mind can relax for a while with only one focus.

Anyway - I hope your routine becomes less chaotic soon.

Thanks, again.