I’m well into Ulysses (which means, I’ve started it and have yet to run shrieking from the room) and might even have some things to say about that in a day or so or more. But I also have two other books underway and wanted to tell you about them because of one simple fact they have in common: I’m not actually reading either one of those, if by reading you mean holding a book in your hand and sitting down with a cup of tea and maybe a cookie, or just sitting on a train with the book on your lap which, if you don’t know by now, are the two ways I read.
The first book I’m not reading is The Aeneid. Although Virgil wasn’t an oral poet like Homer, (I looked that up to make sure I wasn’t just manufacturing that statement — here), it’s a poem that’s written in the oral tradition and is well suited to being read aloud. So I went over to audible.com and discovered that there’s an audiobook of the Fagles translation I got for Christmas and I listened to the sample, and on came this guy with one of those wonderful, delicious British voices that could make a reading of the California Code of Civil Procedure a thing of wonder and mystery and before I knew it I was a lifetime member of audible.com, and the head of delish Brit’s fan club. And yes, it’s true, when he starts talking I find I can barely breathe. I wish his name wasn’t Simon Callow, though, but if I think of him as Delish Brit, I’m okay.
So far, I’ve gotten up to the point where Aeneas makes it to Carthage, and Dido is about to fall in love with him. Poor Dido. The whole thing is quite wonderful. I listened to it yesterday while I was on a walk around our neighborhood, and although I would sometimes drift off into a weird reverie induced by the beautiful voice of Delish Brit, I believe I was really only absent from the story for a moment or two because I do know what happened and I have some coherent thoughts forming about the gods, and about the structure of the story. There are hours to go, and I’m so glad, because I don’t ever want to say goodbye to Mr. Delish Brit.
And then there’s DailyLit (or litbit, which makes it a sort of cousin of delishbrit, see paragraph above). I read about DailyLit today on the 9rules blog. You probably already know about litbit, because it seems tailor-made for bookish sorts, but basically, they slice up great books (the ones that aren’t under copyright anymore and so can be sliced up) and email them to you in tiny, daily packages. I considered doing that with Ulysses for about ten seconds — until I saw that it would take about 322 days before I finished. I think I can read (and skim) faster than that.
But I did see something I liked the look of, something that’s a perfect marriage of the efficient litbit form and the book itself, somthing that looked like too much fun to pass up — an early 20th century self-help book, Arnold Bennett’s How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (which is actually part of a larger Bennett project called, simply enough How to Live).
And so today, I received my first bit of Bennett on the question of how to live on 24 hours a day, which is actually this question: how do you get a really huge number of things done every day. And the answer? You’ve got to stop sleeping so damned much.
Turns out (no surprise to me, but maybe he found it surprising), lots of people think they can’t do that. And in 1925, when he wrote this book, the biggest problem people had with getting up early was this: “I couldn’t begin [the day] without some food, and servants.”
Ah. Servants. Now, food, I’d have guessed, but there aren’t any servants around at 5 a.m. was not on my list of the top ten reasons why I can’t get up early. Still, Arnold Bennett has the answer for this problem of how on earth we can get up early if there aren’t any servants around and it turns out to be a pretty good answer, and one I’m going to try to implement myself:
“Surely, my dear sir, in an age when an excellent spirit-lamp (including a saucepan) can be bought for less than a shilling, you are not going to allow your highest welfare to depend upon the precarious immediate co-operation of a fellow creature! Instruct the fellow creature [in my case, I suppose this would be my husband], whoever she may be, at night. Tell her to put a tray in a suitable position over night. On that tray two biscuits, a cup and saucer, a box of matches and a spirit-lamp; on the lamp, the saucepan; on the saucepan, the lid– but turned the wrong way up; on the reversed lid, the small teapot, containing a minute quantity of tea leaves. You will then have to strike a match–that is all.
“In three minutes the water boils, and you pour it into the teapot (which is already warm). In three more minutes the tea is infused. You can begin your day while drinking it. These details may seem trivial to the foolish, but to the thoughtful they will not seem trivial. The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.”
I’d like to repeat this and put it in bold italics because it strikes me as the most important thing I’ve heard yet this year: The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.
Okay, I’m with him. I do indeed believe that a lot of things depend on tea. (In your case, this might be another beverage, and I am perfectly fine with that.) And if tea could be arranged at, say 5 in the morning, I might, just might, drag myself out of bed and read some more of Ulysses. Especially if there’s a nice tray already set out and waiting for me with a biscuit or two on it. Who knows, with tea and a biscuit or two I might even finish Ulysses before 2008.