Reading on the Number 6

“My e-reader is planning my future.”

Not possible, you say.

phineas-finn--anthony-trollope-paperback-cover-artPerhaps not, but it is reviving my ability to read long books in public.  I recently downloaded a free copy of Phineas Finn, the second novel in Anthony Trollope’s political Pallisers series, from manybooks.net to my e-reader.  At home I am reading Phineas Finn in a beautiful Oxford World’s Classics edition, but on the bus my e-reader is lightweight and a 700-page book is an invisible accessory to my stylish e-gadget.

I don’t like to be seen reading Victorian novels.  Odd, I know.  But  nobody reads Trollope anymore, except David Lodge, who recently wrote a piece for The Guardian on Trollope’s obscure SF novel, The Fixed Period; David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, who wrote about Phineas Finn in 2011; and a few dozen members of a Trollope discussion group at Yahoo, who are always happy to chat about ideals of High Victorianism.

Does it matter if anyone sees what I’m reading?

Yes, perhaps it does.  When everybody else is on his Blackberry, phone, or  other unidentifiable object, I don’t want to step up to the bat with a book, and, like the old woman in the zealously book-banned society of Fahrenheit 451, say, “Play the man, Master Ridley. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace as I trust shall never be put out.”

I prefer being seen in public reading the odd candy bar wrapper.

Actually, on this day of a Midwestern snowstorm, ten inches of snow make the streets impassable, branches, twigs, and wires are swathed in snow, and the buses won’t run till noon.  I am able to stay home and read my paperback.

I am in the world of Phineas Finn.

Phineas has made his maiden speech in Parliament.  It has not gone well.

Phineas Finn had sundry gifts, a powerful and pleasant voice, which he had learned to modulate, a handsome presence, and a certain natural mixture of modesty and self-reliance, which would certainly protect him from the faults of arrogance and pomposity, and which, perhaps, might carry him through the perils of his new position. …But he had not that gift of slow blood which on the former occasion would have enabled him to remember his prepared speech, and which would now have placed all his own resources within his reach.

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope

His friend Monk tells him his speech was nothing great, but was on a par with other maiden speeches.  Phineas is miserable.

Lady Laura and her friend Violet wonder if Phineas’s speech were as bad as Lord Brentford said it was.

On the bus later today we will not be in the world of Phineas Finn.   The few people who chat are not politicians.  They are often just out of prison or  recently converted to a gushy brand of Christianity. Those who read will read “the paper,” which has gone to hell since it fired and early-retired so many staff members, and they talk about what is in the paper that has gone to hell, and how much better it used to be.

Nobody is reading the Oprah book on the bus.  Perhaps they are reading it on their ereaders.

In general, reading on the Number 6 is a private affair.  We stick to newspapers and  e-books.