Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Day of Surrender

I rarely get sick, but I seem to have come down with a case of strep throat, and the result is that I've already let my job know I'm staying home on Tuesday.  My son will be at school and my wife out of the house in the afternoon, and with my energy level low, I plan to spend the day in bed reading and watching stuff.  It's not so unpleasant to feel less than stellar but not altogether miserable, and I'm looking forward to what will be a day of book and movie indulgence.

So what's on the agenda?  Well, before I get to that, let me tell you the attitude that I will not be taking.

I know he's an easy target, but let's just say I will not be taking the perspective of one Jonathan Franzen.  Why even bring that guy up? Because for some reason now, whenever I get sick and have to stay home, I think of the introduction he wrote to the Martin Beck novel, The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.  You might not expect Franzen to have written the intro to a "mere" crime novel, but he did, though of course, his admiration for the book comes with a caveat.

As he says (admittedly a little tongue in cheek at the beginning of this excerpt), "An actual Swedish person, my college roommate Ekstrom, introduced me to this book...This was in 1979.  I was exclusively reading great literature (Shakespeare, Kafka, Goethe), and although I could forgive Ekstrom for not understanding what a serious person I'd become, I had zero interest in opening a book with such a lurid cover...It wasn't until several years later, on a morning when I was sick in bed and too weak to face the likes of Faulkner or Henry James, that I happened to pick up the little paperback again.  And how perfectly comforting The Laughing Policeman turned out to be!  Once I'd made the acquaintance of Inspector Martin Beck, I was never again so afraid of colds...There were ten Martin Beck mysteries altogether, each of them readable cover-to-cover on the worst day of a sore throat."

I've only read five of the Martin Beck mysteries so far, and I managed to read them all when I was in the full bloom of health.  I'd call them excellent, and often funny, though not exactly "comforting". I get what Franzen means when he says he may not want to tax his brain when he's feeling ill and listless, but come on!  But what the hell, it's Jonathan Franzen, and I'm sure he's not alone in thinking like this. 

What's funny is that to this day, I remember a specific winter weekend in college when I came down with a severe cold, one of the worst I've ever had, and read a book as difficult as any I've ever read.  I was living alone and off campus and felt terrible with my cold, and for the lit class I was taking, we were reading William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!  It's the ne plus ultra of Faulkner novels, with sentences that run on for pages and pages - parentheses within parentheses - and its hallucinatory action, not to mention its many characters and extensive time span.   Faulkner's hardest novel to get through, I'd venture, and I'm a Faulkner fan who's read a bunch of his novels.  In any event, I recall stocking up on food, juice, and tea on Friday, in frigid weather, then rushing home as I sneezed and coughed.  After that, I changed into my pajamas and got into bed, and I didn't leave my apartment for three days. Somewhat delirious, repeatedly dozing and then waking up to read, I tore through Absalom, and I daresay being sick allowed me to let go and float along with those incredibly long convoluted sentences.  I was too weakened to stop and analyze them.  The book gave me a kind of high, though that feeling, in all honesty, could also have come in part from the medication I was taking.  The point is, I loved Absalom, Absalom!, and as a matter of fact, it's my favorite Faulkner novel, a book I still put in my all time top ten favorite novels.  I've never dared go back and try to re-read it, though; I fear that if I do, not sick, I won't have the same blissful experience. I could try reading it again when I am sick, but what's the point of that, really, and anyway, I'm not alone in my living situation and able to devote myself to a book for days on end like I once could. That particular read was a one time thing, but it serves as the exact opposite of the Franzen "oh let me read a mere crime novel when ill" approach.

So what about the current sick day?  What to read, what to watch? Simple: I'll continue with the book I've been reading - Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and The Bohemian Highway.  I read the first Claire DeWitt book a few months back, and I'm about halfway through the second.  I'm enjoying it.  Maybe on my day off from work, lying in bed, I'll be able to finish it.  

I'll also be watching episodes three and four of Twin Peaks: The Return, and I can't wait for that.  That's for the afternoon. As I say, my son will be at school and my wife out of the house, and I'll be able to lie in utter darkness before the big flat screen TV and give myself over to the entrancing pleasures of David Lynch.

I need rest and antibiotics for strep throat, no medicine that will reduce my alertness.  And that's a good thing. Between Sara Gran and David Lynch, between all the intoxicants Claire DeWitt takes and the intoxication that David Lynch's images provoke, who needs to ingest anything else?  (Well, besides coffee for Twin Peaks).   These are both the sort of spacey but lucid works to which you just surrender yourself. You let them lead you through their mysteries and take you wherever they happen to go.  

It's going to be a restful day, but trippy.

1 comment:

Art Taylor said...

Hope you're feeling better soon--and in the meantime, both envious of your good reads/watches and also admiring your ability to write a fine post like this while sick! (I had that same copy of Absalom, Absalom!--my own favorite Faulkner too.)