This morning, I read and rested. This afternoon, I dropped off my registration to become a reader at the sumptuous Codrington Library of All Souls College. Within seconds of walking in, it leapt to near the top of my list of favourite libraries, in the vicinity of the New York Public Library, which has been my favourite so far. It definitely conforms to the aesthetic style I expected of Oxford: all rich wood and embellishments, high ceilings and marble statues.
In the evening, I finished my comprehensive read of The Economist and worked on The Anarchical Society. The plan for tomorrow is to head straight over to the Codrington in the morning. Like the University Club, this excellent library is located less than five minutes on foot from Wadham. Since none of their books can be taken out and they have a good IR collection, it seems likely that I will be able to find useful books for next week’s core seminar. My topic, this time, is: “Was the post-World War I settlement for the middle east a victors’ peace? Why did it prove unstable?” There are six books which we have been advised to read, if at all possible. I shall do what I can.
In the next few days, I am hoping to meet with Margaret, as well as Catherine Ouimet – one of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars who I met during the early days in Oxford. Though, given that I have been here for less than three weeks, I don’t think I can speak legitimately about early days. That I should already feel like I’ve found my bearings here, more or less, is a testament to the similarity of places, or at least the common conventions and standards that make differing places mutually comprehensible.
Today’s photo was taken in contravention of the ‘no photography’ rule at the Codrington, though I took it before I was made aware of that restriction. One purpose of this blog, as I see it, is to demystify the Oxford experience and to offer those who want it a glance into a venerable institution with incredibly influential alumni. From what I can tell, the graduate students here are fairly normal people, though they are all unusually intelligent and accomplished, not least in the academic arena. Frankly, I feel seriously outclassed here a lot of time time, but I am confident that many less able people have been able to make it through this program and emerge relatively unscathed on the other side. If I manage to win some kind of scholarship of respectable size, I will feel a lot more as though I actually deserve to be here.
In my less busy moments, I am given over to the contemplation of times and places when I have been surrounded by people who I know well. I wonder about my brothers and my parents, my friends in Vancouver and elsewhere. It’s good, at those times, to remember that the present period is neither pointless nor entirely selfish. Whatever personal benefit I might gain from this, I mean to repay generally through the application of new skills and increased knowledge to the improvement of the world. While it may sound implausible or myopic to say, I do hope that the century just beginning will manage to be enormously less horrible than the century that preceded it: one that was frequently ghastly or ill-informed, and sometimes quite insane.
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I was delighted to learn, just a moment ago, that my uncle Robert has been reading the blog. He and my Aunt Mirka, my mother’s sister, live in Vermont. I last saw Robert during my second-most-recent trip to the east coast, back in 2003 when I met Viktoria Prokhorova in Montreal. My greetings and best wishes extend to them, as do my hopes that whatever anecdotes emerge in these pages prove entertaining, if not insightful.
PS. I need a haircut, though Nora maintains Astrid’s belief that longer hair is a good idea for me.
PPS. Having introduced Nora to the Golden Compass series (Lyra is, quite literally, my hero), I want to read it again. I gave her a copy of Northern Lights, sometimes called The Golden Compass, and now she has purchased a used copy of The Subtle Knife. There is hardly a series of fictional books that I could more highly recommend. One day, I hope that I shall have a daughter to read them to.