I can see it out of the corner of my eye–cumbersome, yet stately–resting silently on the coffee table. The flimsy front cover curls up at the corner, evidence of my ungentle treatment. The spine, not yet broken, shows a worrisome crease around the fifty-page mark. Its gargantuan mass dwarfs all other volumes in the vicinity. And so it sits, inanimate and imposing, mocking me.
Oh, Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, why won’t you let me be??
I never should have started it: this whole thing is my fault. Why didn’t I just leave you to spend your days in obscurity on the dusty shelf of eighteenth century British Literature. Sure, Whalen considered excerpts of you important for Victorian Literature, but why wasn’t I content with those tidbits? Why did I think I could tackle you? Your rambling, endless pages?
Now I can never escape you. Every other book I read will make sly allusions to your content, bits of wit hidden within your thousand pages of tiny print. Dickens will never shut up about your wisdom. Chesterton will never get over your jokes. All of my favorite British authors love you: why can’t I love you, too? Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, why can’t we ever be together THAT way?
Now you must join the ranks of other prestigious volumes and authors that I have failed in my career as a reader, teacher, and lover of great literature. Fortunately for you, the very names that make me cringe ought to provide you with good company. You’ll have the entire works of D.H. Lawrence by your side, I’m afraid. And while you may find Rudyard Kipling quite enjoyable companionship, Joyce’s Ulysses might prove a little too radical for your tastes. Virginia Wolfe will not leave one of your traditional sentiments unchallenged, but you might find a kindred spirit in the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne (except the Scarlet Letter, which alone is exempt from this list of rejected geniuses).
Yes, Boswell’s Johnson, (may I call you that?) my failures are impressive and varied, especially considering the four years of undergraduate work wherein I paid thousands of dollars to be told what to read. A fortunate few have escaped the legions of important, yet neglected classics. Moby Dick used to lead the line-up, but he has broken rank: my husband persuaded me of Melville’s merits, over time, and last year I found the will to get through it. (The experience was not unlike Jonah’s three days of symbolic death, but I was a fool in love! Now I’m just in love.) Anna Karenina broke free during my first trimester reading binge lat fall (though, honestly, War and Peace could have easily taken her place). I also avoided Steinbeck’s East of Eden for years, only to discover its brilliance in my mid-twenties.
What I’m trying to tell you, Boswell’s Johnson, is that you should never give up hope. Just because I’m not ready to be with you right now, doesn’t mean that this is forever. Yes, the sight of your poorly designed Oxford World Classic edition makes me shudder today, but I won’t always feel that way. Someday, I’ll read you. But, today is not that day, Boswell’s Johnson.
Today is not….that….day.