While this title fits me, many people I know read nothing but classics or books destined to be classics or books of tremendous depth of some sort. When I’m not reading books about China and doing research, I read biographies. Being very people oriented I devour biographies. But I have to confess something. I do love mysteries! From old time Raymond Chandlers and my friend the late Ross McDonald (real name Ken Millar), I’m actually a character in his The Blue Hammer , to something like Bangkok 8 that has possibly the most frightening first page I’ve ever encountered.
But there are times when I see a cover I like or a title I like and I change course. My latest course change is a small book The Company They Kept, Volume Two edited by Robert Silvers, a New York Review book. This could in a way fall under “biography” if you stretched the point a bit. It is short stories of writers writing about unforgettable friendships.
When I picked it up and started to read late at night when all by CSI shows were over for the night — I watch them all. NCSI being at the top of my list. But CSI LA is close behind because I think LL Cool J is, well really cool. I even taped The View one day because he was guest for the show. That was an interesting experience. I’d never seen it before. Those women really had him squirming with their language and topics of discussion. But then I like CSI Miami too. And CSI Las Vegas. I’ve watched them all so often I think I could perform an autopsy myself.
Speaking of which a couple of years ago I was flying home from Las Vegas, the friends I was with having driven home. After going through the whole procedure and putting my clothes back on in the airport security area I was leaning over tying my shoe when a man next to me also doubled over tying his shoes said, “Where are you going?”
“Home to Santa Barbara,” I answered from my doubled over position. “Where are you going?” “Uganda,” was the reply. Well was my curiosity set afire with that. And my advice-giving mode. “Have you had all your shots?” I asked. He replied in the affirmative. “And do you have lots of good antibiotics with you. And things for cuts because they have so many germs we’re not used to.” And again he answered in the affirmative.
Finally we were standing up and he introduced me to his traveling companion. I fired the same questions at him but my first friend interrupted me saying that his colleague was also well prepared. They’d made many trips to that part of the world.
“What do you two do?” I asked. “I’m the coroner for Las Vegas and my colleague is head of the forensic lab.” came the astonishing reply.
When I regained my poise I said, “If you two were Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp I couldn’t be more excited.” And I spent so much time asking them questions from all my time in the forensic lab on all my TV shows I nearly missed my plane! Incidentally they spend their vacations in African countries training modern techniques to the local lab technicians etc.
Oh I do stray! About the book………. It was slow reading for me because I spent so much time writing down quotes I particularly liked in chapters such as “Virgil Thomson on Gertrude Stein” or Hector Bianciotti on Jorge Luis Borges one of my favorite South American writers. Oh yes, I read them too. But it was Sir Stephen Spender on W. H. Auden where I was really engrossed. Natasha and Stephen Spender came to stay at Chateau Mouton as guest of Baron Philippe de Rothschild several times when I was staying there. Dinner conversation on those visits sometimes got away from me when they got on to poetry as Stephen was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Philippe was a French poet of great note. Natasha, quite an intellectual as well, was a concert pianist. In that crowd I became an excellent listener! Stephen had a fun side as well and some blog I’ll write about him coming to Santa Barbara for a lecture at University of California at Santa Barbara and my over-cooked leg of lamb and sweet German shepherd dog Jacqueline who terrified Stephen.
His chapter in the book is taken from an address he gave at the Cathedral Church, Oxford, on October 17, 1973 to memory of W. H. Auden. He spoke of Auden reciting poetry by heart in an almost toneless, unemotional, quite unpoetical voice which submerged the intellectual meaning under the level horizontal line of the words. “He would hold up a word or phrase like an isolate fragment or specimen chipped off the great granite cliff of language, where a tragic emotion could be compressed into a coldly joking word, as in certain phrases I recall him saying. For instance, Pain has an element of blank or The icy precepts of respect………….”
Nice words. Good reading. I really should conquer my addiction to CSIs and do more of it. Oh I have to stop now. Downton Abbey comes on in ten minutes. I’m addicted to that too!
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend