Not-Reading

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.

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42 thoughts on “Not-Reading

  1. I love tea as well, and wish there was a go-go-gadget mechanism that brings tea to me in bed. (Significant others do not count.)

    Have a wonderful time with Ulysses, I look forward to your posts on it. I’m going to hunt for Mr. Delish Brit now… (Does yours sound like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Craig, or Clive Owen?)

  2. Oh No, W — My bubble has so, so, so been burst. I just went on my own Delish Brit hunt and came up with this: Simon Callow: “from box-office assistant at the Old Vic to major character star of ’80s and ’90s cinema describes portly, jocular Callow’s career trajectory. Born in London on 13 June 1949, he came to critical attention as Mozart in the National Theatre’s Amadeus (1980), but had only a small role in the film.”

    I gazed on his picture, (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/853077/) and saw at once who he is, which is not actually such a bad thing if you’re hoping to sit next to someone amusing and charming at a dinner party but it’s not the same thing as sitting next to 007, now is it?

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

  3. My family has started on the Intellectual Devotional book and the second page, tonight’s, was on Ulysses. We read about Ulysses and then I mentioned that I had actually gotten through several chapters of it (I had a page a day emailed to me from perhaps the same site you mention) but didn’t understand a bit of it. So I went online and printed out a big stack of pages and while we’re not understanding it, at least we’re getting exposure! You’re a braver woman than I am.

    And the new Aenid translation is on my TBR stack. I’m a longtime member of audible.com (isn’t it wonderful?) and now you’ve tempted me to try to listen to it, too.

  4. Simon Callow may be slightly portly and not very interested in the ladies, but he does have a wonderful voice and is a brilliant actor. One of my kids received a DVD with him reading Roald Dahl’s The Twits and it’s superb. As is your post, Bloglily: funny, well-rounded (from the Greeks to the Web via Arnold Bennett) and a delightful read, as always.

  5. First, I’m so impressed by your reading of Ulysses. I have never even managed to buy it. Second, I listened to The Iliad on tape and think it is the ONLY way to enjoy these classics – it was heart-stoppingly wonderful. And thirdly, ah yes, Simon Callow. He is so immensely talented he could probably make you believe he was anyone in the world you wanted him to be. Transpose the voice onto any face of your choice and enjoy the experience… Dear BL, I loved this post, and it made me laugh so much. I considered it an absolute classic in the BL genre.

  6. Ulysses is about the only book I can think of that I’ve actully read – and enjoyed – thay nobody else I know has. One year I just decided to do it, and found the experience exhilarating. Or maybe this is just a rosy-tinted/distorted memory. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it – and thank you for mentioning Fagle’s translation of the Aeneid. This one I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never even attempted yet (even though I’m about the same age as Mr. Callow), though I did emjoy the Iliad in Fagel’s translation. I’ve never done much with books on tape, thinking my mind would wander and also that it seems to be “cheating” somehow. But I think I’d like to try something like the Aeneid or perhaps some poetry on tape this year. Thanks for the ideas.

  7. The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour. That sentence will carry me through the day. Who knows I may even substitute a nice cup of actual tea for one of my requisite cups of French Roast, which was handed to me this morning upon waking — along with my buzzing Blackberry. 😦 Terribly depressing to know that I have employees fast at work before dawn.

  8. I had not heard of the DailyLit – what a great idea.

    The Arnold Bennett piece caught my attention so I downloaded the whole text at Project Gutenberg and have just finished reading it. He has a wonderful lightness of touch and sense of humour, but underneath it are actually some really useful and interesting things to say – well worth reading.

    Dear old Simon Callow – he’s a British Institution….

  9. I was about to direct you to a picture of Simon Callow, but I see you have already burst your own bubble!. He is a fantastic actor though with, I agree, a ‘delish’ voice. Now Richard Burton reading, that is sublime. I took a brief look at the audio site and when I have more time will look more. I am now going off to make my own much needed balancing cup of tea. It will be an unusual hour as I am trying to concentrate on an essay that must be written and it is yet another, welcome, though shouldn’t really be taken, distraction.

  10. Now the only problem I have with your plan, Bloglily, is the distinct possibility that if you try to read Ulysses at five in the morning, even with a cup of tea, you will immediately fall back asleep again and then you won’t have the back-up system of your alarm clock working for you. But otherwise, a good idea. Now, if I can just stop staying up until after midnight, I might be able to get up early. NOT.

  11. It was a college class that got me through Ulysses, but I’m afraid I didn’t do it justice. Will I ever read it again? Probably not, but who knows?

    And sleep — I love it! I want more time, but to get it by giving up sleep? I can’t!!!

  12. As I get older, I wake up earlier. This morning it was 4 am. 🙂 I used to think Dad was mad when when he got up *that* early. Now it’s normal. Of course the bad part of the early wakening is the early going to sleep. But I can get along with 5 or so hours of sleep.

    You’d be giving up W’s tea making. Or maybe he could still make you one, but it would be your *second* cuppa.

    I haven’t read Ulysses in about 30 years or so. 🙂

    I know there are automated devices for coffee. Are there the same for brewing tea? My tea drinking is pretty primitive. Mostly the cheap Lipton with the water coming from my bottled water hot tap. 🙂 A bit of sugar and some milk.

    I do have a proper teapot, but rarely if ever use it. We don’t even have a coffee maker — Doug uses coffee bags.

  13. I’ve started waking up at 5:30 to coincide with the New year. So far so good and it’s what, like, four days in? I realized I get much more done in the morning and throughout the day, but what do I really do in the evenings? I usually end up watchign tv or half-heartedly reading. I’m hoping this new schedule sticks – I would love for 7:30 to feel like sleeping in! I must do this, though, because otherwise I am a late-night late-morning person, and incredibly less productive!

  14. If you really want to burst your bubble, you can watch Simon Callow’s nude scene in “A Room With a View” (as the Rev. Mr. Beebe). Actually it’s quite charming…

    Audible. com is my favorite. The narrator of Terry Pratchett’s juvenile books (Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents) is quite good too.

  15. Hi Courtney, The thing about getting up early is that you simply can’t stay awake at night to do any of those half-hearted things, which might be just as well. This morning, I woke up at 5, and went back to sleep, there being no servant to bring me tea. I’m still working on that part of it.

    Hey Sue — good god! tea made from your hot water tap! These are the things you need for proper tea: a water boiling thing (we use a plug in kettle every morning), a teapot, and some decent tea. It’s not that much harder to make real tea than to make what you’re making now and just think of how more productive you’ll be with a true cup of tea in you. Oh. You can get along with 5 hours of sleep. I take it all back.

    TBM: God knows how we accomplish anything at all without a staff, but we do.

    Hello Dorothy, Like you, my last experience with Ulysses was in a class. It was not a good experience. You can’t re-do every not-so-great experience, but it’s fun to try.

    HMH, Getting up at 5 and staying up until midnight are indeed mutually exclusive activities, that is unless you’re my sister Susan.

    MsWiz, Good luck with that essay. Cups of tea have many functions, not least of which is giving you something a little fiddly to do while you’re thinking — something that isn’t internet shopping or smoking, I mean.

    Hello Velox, I’m so glad to hear you liked the whole thing. I noticed that, on litbit, you can ask for more if you want to read more, and I might just do that.

    Oh Cam, you poor thing. A buzzing blackberry just sounds cruel.

    Welcome Del — I’m beginning to grow very fond of Mr. Callow! If you do try some books on tape, I’d love to hear how that goes. I don’t think a recorded book works with every text, but with the right reader and under circumstances that lead themselves to concentration (a long plane flight or car ride?), some books are terrific read like that.

    Hello litlove, I think you’re right about Mr. Callow! He’s so fabulous. I’m actually thinking that if the Aeneid continues to go so beautifully, I might want to find someone to read me Swann’s Way.

    The Twits! Charlotte, I can hear him now. How fun. (Did you know that The Twits was translated into Scotts, and is called “The Idjits”? I heard about it on National Public Radio the other day.) One of the best audiences for books on tape are children — and the adults who’re driving. I can remember a wonderful drive from San Francisco to Santa Barbara to visit my friend Debby, and we listened to The Magician’s Nephew the whole way and the trip seemed like nothing at all.

    Hi Diana — I gave my mom that Intellectual Devotional for Christmas, and she really likes it. And good for you, for printing out your stacks of Ulysses! I thought you’d already know about audible, knowing as you do about so many other cool bookish things.

    Yogamum — Newd scene? OMIGOD. Thanks for the audible tip, by the way. I love how much everyone knows about this kind of thing, it’s so useful.

  16. I am a great believer in tea in bed. I have a small tea station set up on my night stand – an electric kettle, tea cup, a carafe for water, a selection of really good tea bags (because loose tea in the early morning befuzzles me), and if I was on the ball the night before, a couple of sugar cubes and some crackers or tea cookies.

    Though I am afraid my electric kettle takes about five minutes to boil my water, not the three minutes of Mr. Bennett’s spirit lamp.

    On a side note – the tone of the passage about tea and the name of the author leave me hearing it as if it were being spoken by Jane Austen’s Mr. Bennett.

  17. The thing I like best about the AB quote is that he talks about tea ‘leaves’. Well, I suppose he would; no tea bags around then – a civilised age indeed. When I logged on this evening there was an e-mail from a friend to celebrate the fact that she had found another local tea-shop that still used real leaves; unfortunately, they are rare enough to warrant celebrating.

    I see you’ve tracked Simon Callow down. He is a brilliant actor, but so much more, an erudite and civilised human being; I bet he uses tea leaves!

    Ann

  18. Beautiful post BL. You are a far, far better woman than I. I have a copy of Ulysses I purchased about 20 years ago. It is in nearly pristine condition, because I never got past the first 20 pages or so. Every time I try to pitch it into the donation box, though, something stops me. Maybe I should read it as my January exercise in discipline. Right after my juicy Jodi Picoult novel. Or maybe right after Tony Hillerman. There is something about Joyce’s description of the snot green sea that stops me dead in my tracks, every time . . . xxoo

  19. >> The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.

    That would be the most important thing you would hear most years, darling!

    Simon Callow – portly and, as Charlotte said, not very interested in the ladies but delish for all that. But then I go weak at the knees at the sound of a roundly enunciated vowel.

    Why not the Oddesey? Oddeseus…. now there’s a bastard to make any girl swoon.

    *sips tea meditatively*

    *thinks of Oddeseus, Circe and Penelope*

    *goes back to her muttons*

    Aphra

  20. Audiobooks are a great way to get to the books you want to read but just can’t seem to find the time (or always seem to, at the last minute, find something better). I try to listen to books that I can learn something from and that I might not necessarily read. I just recently finished listening to Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.

    I am a bit skeptical about DailyLit though. Reading things online is a completely different experience than actually holding the object in front of you while you lounge on a comfortable bed or sit in the sun. You are restricted to a computer where one tends to be more distracted and not totally into one thing. I could see this working well for something a history book or scientific explanation, but I don’t see how a good novel could possibily come through in this medium. Maybe I am wrong. Most likely it is just personal preference (and, judging by the book you choose to be sent to you, one you may share). Perhaps I’ll look into it

  21. Thank you so much for pointing out Daily Lit – ace idea. I’ve just signed up for The Winter’s Tale – 39 parts, the kind of thing I keep intending to read but never quite get around to…

  22. BL, I don’t use *tap water* – but rather filtered water from Culligan. It’s hot enough for tea and coffee.

    But there is an art to doing this, just not at 4 am. 🙂 My darling husband doesn’t make me tea the same time he makes his coffee, but he will get me a glass of water or whatever when he goes to make his own in the evenings.

    I do collect coffee/tea mugs though, and he never complains on the ones I get.

  23. As I’m late in joining, I can only echo the sentiments of yes, Simon Callow! Yes, tea! Yes, biscuits with tea! Holy cow, Ulysses???!!!!

  24. LK — You’re never, ever late. Things get started when you get here. Holy snot green sea, Ulysses indeed!

    Hi Nancy, I think we’re all ready to start the year reading — or at least drinking tea.

    Oh Sue, I know, you’re not THAT bad.

    Hello relaxed dad, What a fine choice.

    Ben, I think you’re right. Some things aren’t good in bits. Others lend themselves to that way of reading, particularly things that are naturally broken up into pieces — like a play or something that’s quite short. But I did find myself asking for more even with Arnold Bennett, because when I get going I sort of like to decide where and when to let off.

    Hello Aphra, You are one very funny feminist icon.

    Mary I don’t know about exercises in self-discipline. I’m not so good about that kind of thing, preferring as I do to seek the fun in things. So far, Ulysses is interesting and fun, because I’m busy underlining the parts I think Virginia Woolf would not like so much.

    Hello Ann, It seems I am the only woman alive who doesn’t know Simon Callow! Tea leaves are nice, especially when you have the proper implements for getting them out of your tea before you drink it and I’m glad your friend located some good ones.

    Anna, You’re right, he does sound very Mr. Bennett-like, doesn’t he? I should have said this in my post if I’d been an accurate and helpful writer, but for those who don’t know him, Arnold Bennett is an early 20th century novelist. A few years ago I read The Old Wives’ Tale, and although I thought it’d be stodgy, it was very entertaining.

  25. Thats some reading!!!!!!! I m just gonna replace the tea with coffee and reading books with some painting (for which I never seem to have any time)!!!! I can paint the whole town then 😉

  26. I remember that scene in a Room with a View…I want to read Homer this year, but I wonder how it will go reading it since it is really meant to be spoken. Maybe I can find an audio and read some and then listen. I am not sure I will ever read Joyce–it’s good to hear it is not as bad as you thought. Perhaps on this one I will live vicariously through you! 🙂

  27. I want to, but have not had the courage to, read The Iliad and The Odyssey. There is something that on the surface seems so difficult about these books and yet the stories have had an influence on or been the underpinnings of so many books and movies I have enjoyed over the years. I really need to act like a grown up and get to reading them.

  28. Sigh. I am drinking a bit of tea right now and looking at the pile of books waiting for me…ah yes right now I am on my reading bookish blogs jag and frankly I am enjoying it! Next week when I’m back to work and my regular commute then I shall be reading proper books wishing for a bit of tea!

  29. With Kelly and Deb, I was reading a 1947 book featuring upstanding hostesses of their time and (the wife of the Governor of Nebraska and such; each lady was profiled with a mention of her church and political party) and the menus that they like to serve their guests. You can imagine the variety of jellied salads. One sentence fragment jumped out at us in the introduction of one prominent lady’s “easy” menu for a casual gathering (no aspic): “The servant problem being what it is…”

    This is an all-around handy phrase for intoducing topics of all kinds. Just try it. The servant problem being what it is, we’re having takeout tonight. The servant problem being what it is, the cat’s litter box hasn’t been changed. The servant problem being what it is, I’m not getting out of bed this morning.

  30. I’m not sure I’d like to see servants at 5 am–I don’t really like to see anyone early in the morning.
    I love the idea of having books you’re not reading–I’ve got some of these, too.

  31. You brave soul, tackling Ulysses. Maybe you’ll be my impetus to try it sooner rather than later. Would you mind setting up that 5:00 a.m. tea and biscuit tray for me once you’ve finished reading it and have a little more time on your hands, so that I can start in on reading it (no hurry, though. 2008, 2009, any year would be fine)? And I am absolutely going to adopt Carrie’s “The servant problem being what it is…”

  32. >The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.

    Oh I love this quote! It’s so very true.

  33. Another great post. I’m glad to hear you’ve found Audible to be a good thing. I certainly enjoy it. I loved the idea of How to Live in 24 Hours until I hear the solution was to get less sleep. But you also inspired me to try getting up earlier and making good use of the morning hours instead of staying up late trying to do art and post to my blog when I’m sleepy and then sleeping too late the next day. I never know what kind of interesting information I’ll get when I visit. Thanks for the votes on the pictures.

  34. Pingback: Life, improved, without sleep » Sandi Kahn Shelton

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