Sunday, October 23, 2005

Like father, like son

The other day my parents came down to visit, and when they were in my guest bedroom/office, my father took a look at the bookshelves and remarked that I am, indeed, part of the family.

For those who haven't seen, my bookshelves are literally bowing under the weight of the books I've crammed into them. I could use about four more shelving units, at a minimum.

It was just one of those little heartwarming moments I enjoy about having a close family.

When I think of my father, I think of all those years he waited for me to grow up (yeah, he might still be waiting sometimes...) so he could hold intelligent conversations with me.

One of the great triumphs of my life, as I believe I've mentioned, was when I came home from college after taking a Shakespeare course and discussed the final with him.

My father, the retired English professor, as you might have guessed, is a reader. So am I. (Mom is, too.) And while my reading material might not be quite so intellectual, my library has its moments.

I've got an entire bookshelf full of Civil War books, thanks to that addiction. I moved my limited edition horror hardcovers to the living room, so they'd look nicer than they did laid horizontally on a shelf in front of even more hardcovers.

My paperbacks fill another bookshelf - stacked horizontally three columns wide and two deep.

And like my father, I think I may have to retire to catch up with everything.

I can't resist a good book. A book that catches my eye will usually end up stuffed into a rare empty space on the shelves. I love to read.

(Yeah, I know, I should probably save a lot of money and join the library, but I've never been much for borrowing books - I hate having to finish them by a certain date. And I love to browse a bookstore, particularly used-book stores or eclectic ones. I often say you can't get a copy editor past a used-book store without them going inside.)

The problem is, there are so many books, and so little time.

Well, that, and the fact that I read for a living. That takes some of the fun out of it. Because I read so intensely for work, I find I often prefer to read fairly mindless fiction for pleasure (though I love history, too, it's often escapist nonfiction like military history or bizarre events, or undersea adventures).

Sure, I studied some lit in college, and enjoyed it. In fact, in addition to the Shakespeare course, which I loved because I really felt connected with my father - in part because I used an old Riverside edition of his, so I could see his writing every day - I got the nicest compliment I think I've ever had on a paper in my Romantics class. Professor Slack (may he rest in peace) wrote that my final paper, on Coleridge, was the kind of paper that was a pleasure to read, or maybe that made it a pleasure to teach. I remember the "pleasure" part, and I can't find the paper - odds are it's lost to the garbage dump of time, but I hope it's in my folks' basement somewhere. Point is, it was a compliment to make the heart swell with pride. I wish I'd gotten to thank him - my roommate picked up the paper for me because I had an interview and had to skip the final class (not a job interview, I was freelancing for a hockey magazine).

Professor Slack was one of three professors at CMU with 50 years in - they were really emeritus professors teaching because back then, the literary and cultural studies group emphasized the cultural studies. So much so that people started avoiding some profs like the plague and they had to revamp the whole program.

Professor Hart (may he also rest in peace), who taught Shakespeare, was a man I liked to refer to as the Yoda of the English department. He was short, wrinkled, had a little bit of white hair, walked with a limp, was so old he probably played high-school football with the Bard himself and, as all good Jedi masters should, he knew EVERYTHING. He was a great professor - and enjoyed my work, which never hurts. Plus, he drove all the way to Florida, by himself, in a weekend, to pick up his wife from something and drive her back to Pennsylvania. And he brought us chocolate.

The only reason I missed out on the third 50-year guy was he canceled the course of his I signed up for while recovering from getting caught up in the great Usenet bboard censorship controversy at CMU. (He was vice provost or something.) But he's the only one of the three still living, and it looks like he's still teaching, so maybe you can complete my hat trick.

Anyway, when you're reading some of my posts (probably the ones about munkees) and thinking I'm an uneducated wingnut, you're wrong. Well, half wrong. I may be a wingnut, but I've got a good education.

And it started at home, with parents who may not have given me a single gene but, in addition to their love, gave me their love of a good book.

The Carnegie Mellon English department
A lecture of Professor Hart's
CMU's library donations, which include some in memory of both Professor Slack and Professor "Pete" Jones, another lit prof of mine
A tribute to Professor Slack, by another former student
Something on Coleridge
And something on Shakespeare

Normally, I wouldn't even dream of shilling for CMU - I hold enough revulsion for certain parts of it and people I met there that they can raise money without my help - but Professors Hart, Slack and Jones are the kind of men who, to paraphrase further off target, made it a pleasure to go to class and learn.