Nervous, trundling day

2006-03-17

in Books and literature, Daily updates, Oxford

Empty bench, Wadham gardens

On the basis of a highly scientific and statistically valid one-night, one-person study, I wake up feeling much more rested when I sleep with earplugs. I also dream about getting attacked by a huge scruffy black house cat in the woods beside Capilano River.

I spent several hours today in the Oxford Country Library, near Nuffield, reading Hunter Thompson’s The Rum Diary. As you would expect, it’s a fairly ugly book. The kind of thing that stays funny when it’s in the realm of absurd abstraction, yet is always still tinged with the certainly of loss and failure. It’s nice, at least, to just pick up a book and read it, without major pause. You would need to be superhuman to do it with an environmental politics book, but for a 400 page pseudo-autobiographical novel, the pattern fits. Reading Thompson is like taking insurance against the possibility that you’re a hub in the machine that he seems to understand and mostly exist outside of. The danger is that you might see your loneliness reflected in his own.

All told, it’s not the greatest book, and it certainly doesn’t add a lustre to your day. At the same time, Thompson wrote it when he was my age and there is a sense in which you can see the future laid out in it: his future, in particular. You see that in what may be the most notable phrase:

It was the tension between these two poles – a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other – that kept me going.

Your classic “narrator arrives in a place, things go wrong, he leaves” story, it reminds me of a lot of contemporary fiction. It’s the anti-journey story, where there is no clear end and even the process of travel collapses upon itself.

Spending time in the public library reminded me of one of the great truths of travel. Almost everything about your experience in a city is determined by how many doors you can open, or have opened for you. If all you can muster is the automatic doors at the entrances of libraries and shopping malls, you’re in a pretty bad way. The idea was reinforced as I took a quick walk around the long pool in Nuffield – perhaps my favourite quad in Oxford – and contemplated with appreciation the benefits of position and connection.

Oxford is peppered today with people in green, with top hats and Leprechaun boots. Were it not for my very early morning rise tomorrow, and the importance of being awake and aware subsequently, I might make a foray to see how this de-Christianized celebration of a saint takes place here. I was nervous, at first, to see people walking around with this kind of regalia – images of football related violence and painted fans flickering in my imagination – but when I saw that it was mostly people under fifteen or over thirty-five, my mind was largely put at ease.

I suppose I should spend tonight getting a start on the new Economist, making sure I have a clean shirt, and checking that I can remember how to tie a tie.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Meghan March 17, 2006 at 10:31 pm

I agree that earplugs, if they are comfortable and reasonably good quality, can improve sleep by a significant measure. I know I wouldn’t have survived much of our Europe trip without them… even the early morning construction work taking place outside my window in Geneva wasn’t as bad as those birds in the Cinque Terre.

B March 17, 2006 at 11:36 pm

Of all of Thompson’s books, why would you choose to read his obscure first novel, published only in 1998?

Milan March 18, 2006 at 12:14 am

It was the only book of his they had at the central location. I went there looking for The Great Shark Hunt or Fear and Loathing (in Las Vegas / on the Campaign Trail).

Ben March 18, 2006 at 6:48 pm

I don’t know about earplugs, but I think I need one of those sleeping mask/blindfold things – it’s always the morning sunlight rather than noise that wakes me.

Milan February 15, 2007 at 12:37 am

The 1978 BBC documentary ‘Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision’ about Hunter S. Thompson is available on Google Video.

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