Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reading on the Mass Pike

I have been doing a fair amount of reading on the Massachusetts Turnpike these days. Last week I read Sebastian Junger's A Death in Belmont. (It's a good read and I recommend it.) And yesterday (yes, in just one day) I read Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea. In addition to my hour-long commute I had a meeting in the Berkshires, so I even had time to spare.

Technically speaking, I guess you would say that Donald Sutherland read The Old Man and the Sea to me. It has been a long time since someone has read to me, and maybe never someone who reads as well as Donald Sutherland. (Although my mother did used to read a pretty good Little Red Hen.)

For the past fifteen years I had about a two hundred yard commute from the rectory to the church. While I had visits to the sick and occasional diocesan commitments in Springfield, I did not spend a lot of time in my car, and when I did I mostly listened to music. Many of my friends spend a lot of time in their cars, however, or in airports - an aspect of their work that I have never envied. One of those friends often shows up at social events and begins conversations like this: "I just finished reading this great book..."

I always interrupt him with my best Mike-Myers-playing-Dr-Evil imitation (using hand motions to make the quotation marks) - so, Brian, what book have you just "read?

No more. Brian is now my main go-to man. I've removed the quotation marks. I, too, am now reading on the Mass Pike. And loving it. I find myself arriving at my destination and wanting to finish that chapter...

I had this amazing English teacher as a junior in high school, a man named Ken Swartz, who taught us (among other things) three fishing stories: Moby Dick, The Book of Job, and The Old Man and the Sea. I have not yet re-read Melville's classic, but I have re-read Job many times since high school. And now, more than three decades later, I have returned to The Old Man and The Sea.

As Santiago sails back home with his great fish in tow, he wonders about all of the great questions of his life: about the meaning of his work, about his love for the boy, about the nature of sin, about his relationship to the created order.  What an extraordinary story, that I'm sure was wasted on me at seventeen.
You did not kill the fish only to keep alive or to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?
Next on my list is David McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris

1 comment:

  1. Try the Book Thief by Markus Zusak; beautifully written and wonderfully narrated.