(A Parody) Reading Edgar Allan Poe Be Like…

I was a wealthy gentleman going about the business of wealthy gentlemen. I was up late at night after a long day of walking around the grounds of my estate in the fog, and I had taken one of my chief delights for the night: a long pour from an old bottle of wine out of my extensive collection. I had thought to have a quiet night, being quite tired and in a melancholy mood given the fog and the generally sorrowful state of my setting. However, to my surprise, I heard the slightest knock upon my door.

I rarely get visitors to my estate and even those that do come to visit rarely come at such a late hour, so it was with great astonishment and trepidation that I walked to the door and peered outside. And such a strange thing I saw there that I can hardly describe it to you. Still, I will do my best. I saw, there on my doorstep, a small man dressed all in rags with a peculiar look about him and somehow an accent that marks him out as a terrible ethnic stereotype. To my great wonder and surprise, the man greeted me by name. Though I admit that I could not recognize the fellow, I took him to be someone I had met before and so invited him into my estate and offered him a place by my fire.

For a long time, silence fell between us before the man finally began to speak. “I am told you are the lord of this manor?”
“Indeed sir, I am” I responded.
“And is this not the house that has been in the possession of your family for generations?”
“Why, sir, it is indeed! Perhaps you have heard of my family name?”
“I have! That is why I am here. Your great grandfather had a debt to settle with me, and I’m afraid I have come to collect.”
At this, I started to laugh and nearly choked on the excellent vintage I had been drinking. The man was scarcely older than me, and my great grandfather had been dead for many years.
“Sir,” I started, “That cannot possibly be true.”
“Indeed it is!” He responded, “Have you never wondered how your great grandfather became so suddenly fantastically wealthy that you yourself have never had to get a job and instead spend all your time drinking port and walking around in the fog?”

I admit it had crossed my mind once or twice. While people I knew had been going to universities and getting degrees, my chief occupations had been melancholy walks, drinking old wines, and moodily starting into the fireplace. I had assumed for years that he made his fortune in oil or railroads or any of the other respectable American institutions. Having no response for the man, I simply asked him a question.

“And who are you to say that my great grandfather, God rest his soul, has a debt with you?”
“Why, I am The Collector, good man! Has that not been obvious?” And with that he produced an extravagantly large piece of paper out of his jacket and, unfolding it carefully, handed it to me.

It read as follows:

I the undersigned have made a deal with The Collector.

In a year’s time, I shall become fantastically wealthy and never want of any luxury. I shall also have an everlasting collection of fine wines in my vaults at all times and a large and imposing manor the grounds of which shall be especially spooky in winter or on foggy days. This wealth shall stay in my family and continue as long as one condition is met.

The condition set out by the collector is this: each firstborn son in my family shall have an heir to inherit this great wealth.

Any failure to meet this condition shall result in the loss of all wealth and the forfeiture of the soul of whoever is last in my line.

This contract was signed in what I assume to be red ink by my great grandfather’s hand. I read with great dismay the words that were written therein. By a twist of inopportune fate, I had no heir. The inopportune fate is that I had, like most wealthy gentlemen in these tales, committed the most ghastly crime of murder the year before and had struck down my wife before entombing her in the walls of the manor. Somehow the women never do well in such stories, but that is a matter I will not dwell upon, for now, I began to realize that due to my crime I was most undone.

Oh, sorrow and grief that I possessed at my crime! Given the investigative standards of the law enforcement of my day, my deed had been left undiscovered, and I thought I had made a clean break with the past. Oh, but how fate will conspire against a man. I now realized that my crime had indeed come back to me and that I should never be free of my guilt. I looked down at the contract again trying to find some way out, but there was none. A great passion then overtook me then, and I grabbed the nearest wine bottle and lunged at The Collector hoping to strike him down then and there. He neatly sidestepped my lunge and I nearly fell headfirst into the fire. I was able to stop myself, but the forward motion of my attack sent the coattails of my fine jacket right into the coals where they immediately caught fire.

I was able to remove the jacket and cast it to the floor, but then, to my dismay, the carpet caught fire as well. And oh, the flames did spread themselves upon the floor in a neat ring around myself and The Collector. I turned to face this demon once more, but where he had stood but a moment before, now there was nothing but dancing flames. I, the manor, the wine collection, and all my fantastic wealth were destined for the fire. At this point, I became sure that my poor soul was destined for another kind of flame, and so with what little time I had left, I took it upon myself to write my tale. I have penned this missive, tied it to a wine bottle, and thrown it out of a window. I hope that I have cast it far enough from the flames that it is not consumed by them.

May you learn from this tragedy that the evil you do will always come back to haunt you!

The list of shame

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There’s a funny thing that happens when you read fairly widely: you’re going to end up with a lot of things that you’ll be glad that you read. You finished all of Pride and Prejudice? Good for you! Made it through the entirety of Moby Dick? Great! But if there’s something that two English degrees has taught me at this point, it’s that there’s always going to be something you haven’t read. I call this the list of shame.

The list of shame is all the classic literature and great works I haven’t read, and (for me at least) the list is probably longer than it ought to be. The books that are on the list of shame are long and quite varied, and they represent just a small sample of things that I haven’t read yet, but really plan on reading at some point.

So, by way of a confession, here, in no particular order, is just a small sample of a list that is more extensive than it should be:

  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Why it’s on the top of the list: this book has been gathering dust on my shelf for a long time. I actually own the physical book, and I even brought it with me on my move from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest. Anyone else who might own the book knows that it’s quite large, so moving it that far is no small feat. It’s been almost three years since I moved and probably about five since I bought it. I still haven’t touched it. Also, Dostoevsky has been my favorite author for years, and even that hasn’t made me actually finish this book. For shame.
  • All of Jane Austen. Why it’s on the list: I’ve never read a Jane Austen book. Seriously. Not a single one. I know what her writing is all about, and I would probably enjoy it, but I’ve never gotten around to actually reading her books.
  • The Road by Jack Kerouac. Why it’s on the list: I love Kerouac. I’ve read more of his poetry than I can even remember, and I even read his stream of consciousness insanity in Old Angel Midnight, but I’ve never read his single most well-known book. This is even a fairly short one compared to some of the other things on this list, so I am really left without an excuse for this one.
  • Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. Why it’s on the list: there are two books that I’ve started and just could not finish reading. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is one of them. I decided a while back that I needed to know more about philosophy, so I picked this one up along with a few other philosophy books. I admit that this one was beyond me at the time. Half the time I didn’t know what Kant was saying, and the other half, I felt like I wasn’t familiar enough with the arguments to really grasp what was going on. I know a little bit more now than I did when I first started reading this, but I’m still hesitant about trying to pick this up again.
  • Almost all of Hemingway. Why it’s on the list: I’ve read some of Hemmingway’s work, and I honestly can’t get into it. The short, completely unadorned sentence structure is distracting and obnoxious, and I can’t read it without thinking that I’m reading work by students who are unnecessarily afraid of all punctuation except the period. Terrible stuff. I might read more Hemingway, but then I might not as well.
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Why it’s on the list: has anyone really read this book? Did they actually get anything meaningful out of it? I don’t really believe it. I’ve read some of Joyce’s more coherent works, and those seem fine, but this one? I don’t know. That being said, there’s an argument that really no one has actually made it through this book either, so I might be in good company.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Why it’s on the list: so many pages… so many… pages. I’ll get around to it one day, but in the meantime… so many pages…
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Why it’s on the list: way back in 2012 when the movie came out, I said I would read the book before I saw the movie because at that point I still hadn’t read the book. Fast forward to 2018, and I still haven’t read the book. I still haven’t watched the movie either.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why it’s on the list: Another time that I said I was going to read the book before watching the movie. I’ve done neither of those things.
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer. Why it’s on the list: two of the oldest books in existence and basically the “start here” section of Western literature. You can even find them for free on the Amazon Kindle Store, and yet, I still haven’t read them. Terrible.

So why the list of shame? This was not put together in an attempt to flaunt my own ignorance. We get plenty of that from our politicians these days, and I don’t need to add to the mix. This was also not put together for some kind of self-flagellation, but it does have a point. A lot of us here in the blogosphere are literary types: writers, at least, or fairly voracious readers, and we have a tendency to obsess over the things that we have read and downplay the things which we have not. I think this does us a disservice as readers because it can give us a false impression of our accomplishments. Basically, it comes down to this: no matter how widely read you are, there are going to be things you haven’t read, and there is going to be someone out there who has read all the things you haven’t, and all the things you’ve read will be on their list of shame.

The list of shame has an alternative purpose as well: this is my list of things that I want to read, and probably will get around to reading at some point. I know there are some great books on this list, and I know I will probably enjoy some of them (even if others on the list are a slog). So in its own way, the list of shame is a bit of a motivating thing for me. It’s all the books I will get around to.

…Eventually.

-PWC.