A reality check many of us need: Drawing caption, Zachary Kanin, The New Yorker, January 25, 2016: “I’m sorry your head hurts, sweetie–is there anything I can do to make you shut up about it?”
Sidewalk blackboard caption to drawing outside a downtown shop: “i don’t know where i’m going from here but i promise it won’t be boring.”
Low, gray clouds were ominous. The gray was bruised: under the gray were tints of black and orange. The clouds brought first sleet, then rain which froze, then a dusting of snow. The wind blew hard and the temperature dropped. The neighborhood was hard pressed to clear out after the storm.
I walked in the sleet and realized that “sleet” is onomatopoeic. I liked to feel and hear sleet hit my cap and overcoat. When I walked into the wind, my face was stung by the “t” of the word. I kept my head down. Few others were outside. I was glad of the warmth and lamp light and an anticipation of reading during the night.
I prepared for power outage: flashlights, candles, matches The electricity held during the storm.
“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the successful completion of their appointed rounds.” GOOGLE tells me that these words are inscribed on a post office building in New York City. But the words were not true in our town. There was no mail delivery for two days of the storm time.
Notes on reading. Fiction. Jack London, The Sea Wolf. (1901). Washington Square Press, 1967.
I had not read this novel since I studied it as part of an undergraduate course, American Fiction, 1865-1915. I had saved it all these decades for re-reading, and I re-read it last week. It is the story of a group of men, and one woman, on a commercial seal-hunt trip from California to Japan. The protagonist, Humphrey Van Weyden, is saved by the ship when he was washed overboard on a ferry-steamer in the San Francisco Bay area. The ship, the Ghost, is commanded by the amoral and cruel captain, Wolf Larsen. Van Weyden, who lived on a trust fund, and who describes himself as a “gentleman, scholar, dilettante,” learns to survive in brutal conditions, marked by fights, beatings, murders. Van Weyden is intrigued by Larsen’s knowledge of Darwin, Spencer, Milton, Browning, and other philosophers and thinkers and is amazed that he can remain amoral, living the idea of survival of the fittest. When Maud Brewster is taken onboard, rescued from a ship headed to Japan, Van Weyden feels responsibility for her protection. The last third of the book is about their escape: days at sea together, living Robinson Crusoe-like on an island, building shelter (separate huts of course), attempts at getting food, exploring about. Van Weyden has now learned to survive and to do practical things, and when the Ghost is shipwrecked, he sets about to repair it for return home. He has learned to repair ships and to sail, and to survive on this remarkable journey.
When I studied the book, I remember being interested in the way ideas of philosophy were incorporated into the narrative. Now I find the book not convincing in plot and not convincing in the use of philosophy. My copy goes into the “Donate” box.
Thank you for reading!