Why not write a book? It seemed like a good idea. For three days I’d worn the same fuchsia sweatpants, because my husband was out of town. I was sitting on the couch with the cats, rereading Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love, when I realized that the heroine, Dulcie Mainwaring, an indexer, never wore fuchsia sweatpants, and if I wanted to write, I must get dressed.
I dragged my typewriter out of the basement. But what would I write? I decided on a bibliomemoir. They’re popular and not too cerebral, and though I’m fairly bright, I’m basically a lightweight. I don’t have a gimmick or a grief to overcome: Phyllis Rose (The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading) read all the books on a library shelf; Nina Sankovitch (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) read a book a day after her sister died; Will Schwalbe (The End of Your Life Book Club) discussed books with his dying mother; Rebecca Mead (My Life in Middlemarch) was madly in love with Middlemarch; and Robert Dessaix (Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev) retraced Turgenev’s footsteps in Russia and Europe and meditated on the writer’s influence.
No, I didn’t have high aspirations, but I had a cause. You might say the Republicans, writers of dreadful tweets and enemies of the NEA, inspired me to raise my standards. A disappointed Democrat, I’d upgraded my reading to maintain the tenets of civilization. Yup, I wrote in my notes: “Read classics to uphold tenets of civilization.” And, in a cute little notebook from England, I’d taken a lot of notes.
To organize the notes I had literally to rip out pages, shuffle, and spread on the floor. As I looked at the pages I cheerfully meditated on principles of organization: (a) the importance of being “Ernest,” mixed with (b) the glee of being lightweight. I’d recently read a very disparate bunch of writers: Pushkin, Barbara Pym, Margaret Drabble, Catherine Aird, Trollope, E. Nesbit, Ada Palmer, Valerio Massimo Manfredi, and Ovid…
Whom to write about and whom to cut? Oh, well, write ’em up and then figure it out. “I’ll think about that tomorrow” (Scarlet O’Hara). I typed happily most of Day 4, wondering if Bess Streeter Aldrich or Conrad Richter was the best, most neglected regional writer.
And then I ran out of paper. I called my cousin Megan, who came by with a pack of paper and carry-out. While we heated the pizza, she skimmed two very short “chapters”—she approved of the pages on Agatha Christie, but said I must cut the Ovid because it reminded her of horrible Mrs. Westcott’s Latin class, which her mother made her take, and she still had nightmares about something called hyperjump. (“Hyperbaton,” I corrected.) I listened absent-mindedly as I organized my vitamin pill caddy, because writers who type on typewriters need to fortify body and brain with many, many, many vitamins and herbal and botanical supplements, as well as packets of a fizzy orange energy drink I keep next to the Morning Thunder tea.
When I got up from the table, Megan informed me that I had a hole in my black stretch pants. Dear Reader, those stretch pants were all that stood between me and a life of reading novels on the couch (very Oblomov). The fuchsia sweatpants were as comfortable as pajamas–too comfortable. Well, I changed back into them until Megan went home, and then did a load of laundry at midnight.
As soon as the jeans dry I’m ready to type on.