Sunday, May 30, 2010

A slim grey volume

I hadn't realized until this evening that two of the books I am reading are slim grey volumes of strikingly similar proportions. It was, therefore, with some shock that I opened what I thought was Mary Poppins, only to find myself in the third chapter of All Quiet on the Western Front. It is, perhaps, safe to assume that when one is in the mood for reading Travers, Erich Maria Remarque is probably not a suitable substitute. I do find, though, that night is the only time I can stand to read All Quiet on the Western Front. I can feel terribly sad and depressed, and even cry, and wake up the next morning with the day fresh and only occasional remembrances of poignant distress and utterly wasted innocence. Whereas, if I read that sort of thing in the morning or afternoon, the rest of the day is completely destroyed. And so I read another twenty pages or so, which is all I can take for tonight, I think. I suppose it would have been funny if I had steeled myself to read about World War I, only to discover that I was about to find out what happened after Mary Poppins left the chalk picture. As it was, there wasn't anything very funny about it.

There was a great deal, though, of insight for me, that I'm glad I don't have to learn the hard way. I've just read the part about the closeness that the soldier feels for the earth at the front--she is his protector, his shield, and even in death she embraces him finally. The gallows humor and strange tendernesses that survive brutality, the magical abilities of Kat to procure bread, horsemeat, a pan, a lump of fat and a handful of salt in an abandoned warehouse visited only by men begging for food, which prompts the narrator to suppose that, plopped down in the middle of a desert, Kat would be sure to procure a supper of wine, dates, and roast meat from the arid waste. It is strange to look forward to reading a book, and yet to dread it terribly, so that the accident of discovering its true contents seems a fortuitous one, even as my spirit sinks.

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