Thursday, 1 April 2010

The End Of The Line - Friday Flash

Dwelling at the end of the line bestowed me a brace of boons. Firstly that I always secured myself a seat, much to the spreading satisfaction of my gluteus maximus. And second, that usually I'm able to wade into my current reading book to good effect.

Now I grant that reading on a train and in public, is not the same as reading in the splendid isolation of home. When one feasts on words, one cannot but help take a mental pause for digestion and paying silent compliment to the literary chef. On a train, when hoisting the eyes up from the page thus, one has no recourse other than to scan the carnival of humanity, which also happens to be in transit between one worldly carousel and another.

Within my little cloister of four seats, there is usually some permutation of persons cutting themselves adrift. Be it through earphones; hiding behind a freesheet newspaper; slumped asleep; women applying make-up gathered into a compact; and innumerable folks predictably having words chiseled for them on their mobile phones and grinning inanely to themselves. Occasionally, just occasionally, I am abutted or adjacent to a fellow bibliophile. My heart cannot but help skip in such circumstance. Our eyes craning to read, not the face, but the title of their book which will enlighten us one to the other, into an instant familiarity.

So imagine my unalloyed delight when today all three other berths were filled by men with volumes held out in front of them, supplicants like myself. My eyes were pinging about in their sockets, unsure quite where to alight first. Etiquette determines that it is unseemly to swivel your head to the left towards the man seated beside you, so I was faced with the two diametric, either of whom could be engaged with minimal canting.

I plumped for the man directly opposite me. I snaked my eyes above the paper periphery of my book. To be confronted directly by his, staring straight at me, with his book lowered into his lap. In point of fact he was staring straight through me. As if he was trying to burn through to the Virgin Trains' logoed antimacassar behind my head.

I saw that his lips were moving. Possibly a student reeling off his rote learning for the ordeal of a test. Though he seemed a touch on the old side for a student, even an eternal one. Also the rhythm of his recitation seemed to be so rapid as to preclude an itemisation of facts.

People who read not only moving their lips, but actually vocalising their words had always struck me as rather limited readers, yet this chap was belting through his text of choice with compelling fluency. Though cupped in his lap, he wasn't actually reading it per se, unless it was written in braille...

I ducked my eyes down to squint at his print. It wasn't pointillist, but neither could I apprehend its alphabet. Of course, this man was praying! Intoning words not only taken into his heart, but inscribed there.

Does one have to be reading a text for the first time in order to fulfil the prerequisite to be a member of our impromptu book club? He wasn't even strictly reading his damned book anyway! I'm not sure therefore we could count him as a fellow traveller through the printed word. Our full house might just have become a busted flush. Oh sweet fraternity, I had imagined today to be so very special, what with these portents lined up this way.

Still, that left two other kindred souls. I veered my glance slightly to the left. The features were partially obscured behind the cover of his book, but I could deduce that he wore spectacles. Time to see what was being reflected in his lenses.

"Sociolinguistics". Well now, I knew what 'linguistics' meant and I had a fair idea what 'socio' presaged in the main, but I'll own putting the two together left me floundering a tad. Patently an academic text of sorts. To wring all the life out of language and literature no doubt. The burst blood vessels in his hand seemed quite appropriate somehow.

Then he lowered his book and I chanced look at his face, but only saw myself dimly outlined in his reflectors. Clearly he wasn't looking through the glass and seeing me. His eyes never left his text as they dipped downwards. Socio-gymnastics, seeing as his hand was fumbling in the pocket of his corduroy jacket. It resurfaced, brandishing a dayglo fluorescent pen.

Still adhered to his reading, he inserted the pen between his lips and levered the lid off with his one free hand. And then the great desecration descended as he proceeded to underline , or possibly block-fill sections of the page. This man had no respect for the holy sacrament of print. I drummed him straight out of our honorary members club and in my mind sliced off his corduroy shoulder pads with - no, no I am a man moved by things of the mind, not violence.

As to the third, well I will not even bring myself to utter.... It had pictures in it. An art book of some kind ? No lush plates of photographic reproductions, but line drawings if you please. Of a man, with a beard and a woman. And this bookworm too was imbibing the text with his vermicular tongue stuck out at the corner of his mouth. But it wasn't any sounds it was keeping time with...

Oh woe to be compartmentalised with a breviary, one textbook and singular manual. Fickle fate has mocked me with a mirage of monographs.

As the train pulled in towards the buffers, it was then that I realised I hadn't even progressed to the end of even a single line in my own book. Today, I couldn't even call myself a reader.

23 comments:

Simon said...

The joy of the bibliophile! This made me laugh: "Our eyes craning to read, not the face, but the title of their book which will enlighten us one to the other, into an instant familiarity." That's so well observed, Marc!

This too: "...it was then that I realised I hadn't even progressed to the end of even a single line in my own book." Sometimes the only way to overcome this is with a good bit of desecration with a pencil! ;o)

And as for 'literary chef', well, you must have a string of stars to your name. Great read!
Simon.

Carrie said...

Damn this was juicy as I've come to expect from you: "On a train, when hoisting the eyes up from the page thus, one has no recourse other than to scan the carnival of humanity, which also happens to be in transit between one worldly carousel and another. "

I got choked up it's so beautiful.

Marisa Birns said...

"and innumerable folks predictably having words chiseled for them on their mobile phones and grinning inanely to themselves."

I've seen these inanely grinning people on trains!

As is always the case, your writing enthralls.

Loved this sentence: "Oh woe to be compartmentalised with a breviary, one textbook and singular manual. Fickle fate has mocked me with a mirage of monographs."

I would look over someone's shoulder to read this story. :)

Karen from Mentor said...

"and in my mind sliced off his corduroy shoulder pads with - no, no I am a man moved by things of the mind, not violence."

I read this part with the utmost glee. Shame on him for thinking such a shocking thing. Shame, shame, shame.

G.P. Ching said...

There are so many memorable parts of this piece. The writing has a gorgeous rhythm. I read it twice. Very well done.

ganymeder said...

This was cute. And he didn't even read his own book. :)

I guess I'm quite the heretic, as I've been known to underline and highlight in my favorite books too...

Sulci Collective said...

Hey ganymeder, I don't feel the same as my character here. I mark books where there is something I particularly want to remember and come back to. Be it turning back the corner of the page or with a pen.

Tony Noland said...

Beautifully descriptive. I admit to being the sort of person who will surreptitiously try to see what sort of books people are reading.

However, I don't mark up books. I'm much more like the protag in that.

mazzz in Leeds said...

I love this piece soooooo much :)
you could be describing me there (the narrator that is). Except that I like my books lived in, so the odd scribble/breaking of the spine is acceptable in my book (no pun intended)

Fabulous writing here, way more than a brace of boons - more like a cricket score.

Lou Freshwater said...

This person would break out in hives if they saw my copy of Frankenstein.

This is well done, as always. It made me think of an article I read yesterday which took the piss out of people (me kinda) who claim to have a reverence for the 'smell of books'. The writer's point being that most books don't smell, and people can certainly curl up in bead with a kindle. Also, I'm reminded of your essay and your thoughts about how our ways of reading are changing. And all of this is to say, I enjoyed reading *this* and it made me think of how we cling to our notions which in the end may just hold us back causing us to miss out on our own joy. Your work always makes me think, and feel. Thanks.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Very observant Marc - I love this! I would be the "marker-upper", so much so that when I recently met one of my favorite authors at a conference, I only brought one of her books to sign, (I own them all), because I was ashamed of the shape I'd rendered all the others. ;)

My favorite line is the same as Carrie's - "On a train, when hoisting the eyes up from the page thus, one has no recourse other than to scan the carnival of humanity, which also happens to be in transit between one worldly carousel and another. "

Outstanding work, unsurprisingly.

Anton Gully said...

Great idea! Loved the tone of it. I still think you use way too many big words. Gimme a break, I need a friggin dictionary by me when I read your stuff. :P

Sulci Collective said...

good for the writer's soul Anton

Anton Gully said...

Soul?

I may have identified my problem then.

a.m.harte said...

I really liked this -- I'm very similar to this, I always read people's book covers, although here in London a LOT of people read when on the tube. Or I also try to hide my cover if I'm reading something a little more embarrassing (e.g. a romance novel) as I'm afraid of being judged -- and display high literature proudly! :-)

Heather Lloyd said...

Loved the image of the commuter reading the joy of sex - definitely an unusual choice for public consumption! When I lived in London a seat was a rare luxury in spite of living out in zone 3, but on many many an occasion I would find myself reading over the shoulder of my fellow passengers so this struck a familiar chord...

Virginia Moffatt said...

I love the pretentiousness of this character, so busy nosing into others books he doesn't even live up to his own principles...

Jessica Rosen said...

What a delightful voice! So full of himself and his righteousness. His awareness of staying within boundaries while simultaneously betraying them was of particular interest.

Take care,
Jess

Cecilia Dominic said...

The narrator's judgmental observation of the others is hysterical, as is his own rueful self-observation. Your language enthralls, as always.

Cecilia

Linda said...

What a snoot. This guy carries a black umbrella that matches his wingtips. Wonderful wordage, especially loved the lilt of this: "Fickle fate has mocked me with a mirage of monographs." Tilting into poetry territory... Peace, Linda

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Ha! This was such an eye-full and ear-full of delightful observations crafted by a true wordsmith. I loved the phrases you put together, mentioned by Carrie and Karen, and I also loved,
"Within my little cloister of four seats, there is usually some permutation of persons cutting themselves adrift."

I enjoyed peering into his world, I too love to strain myself trying to figure out what other people are reading.

Donald Conrad said...

I read this twice, the second time aloud. I'm sure it will stick with me for some time. Thanks.

Kat said...

Lol. Diary of a hypocrite? It was well written and very entertaining!

:D