Saturday, September 21, 2013

Through Thick and Thin

A ten-year reading plan. Serious business. That’s three-thousand six-hundred fifty-two days of reading, not all of it easy. Sure, I’ve given myself some leeway here and there. But still, I’ve made a commitment to myself to get through about forty weighty books (or substantial portions of books) each year for ten years. When I catch a virus, that schedule is still there. When I travel, the schedule is there. When I have a stack of troublesome papers to grade, the schedule is there. In year 2, before I was blogging about my experience, we had a major family trauma. At the end of the year when I looked at my personal notes on my reading, I found not only that I hadn’t taken any notes since about May, but that I didn’t even remember much of what I had read. I remember more details about comic books I read that year than I do about Kant or Spenser. But still I read Kant and Spenser.

For the last month or so, I’ve been having trouble focusing again. There’s no ugly trauma this time. I do have to deal with the stress of retiring from one job and looking for another, but that’s a happy stress. Maybe I have a problem with literal focus: I’m not seeing close-up as well as I used to. So maybe I need reading glasses. Maybe it’s that the campus Wendy’s closed, and the food court in the student union is too full of food and students for a fruitful lunch-time visit with a good book.

Whatever the problem is, it’s been making Plutarch hard to read. When I catch myself not knowing what my eyes just went over, I try rereading a sentence slowly; but then I get caught up in the details and the grammar of each word and lose sight of the overall flow. So then I try to read fast, but I miss the significance of all the details. Maybe it’s John Dryden. Dryden’s translation isn’t the easiest to read, I must admit. He tries too much, I think, to follow the sentence structure of the original Latin, but he doesn’t always deal with the grammatical nuances that get lost in the translation to English. Latin has more pronouns than English for instance. Dryden has Plutarch saying, “Pompey rendered Demetrius less odious to others,” and then uses the pronoun “he” often for the next couple of paragraphs. I always can’t tell which person the pronoun refers to, but I think it sometimes stands for Pompey and sometimes for Demetrius. What I do know is that Latin provided Plutarch with several ways to say “he” – is, hic, ille, iste, ipse, etc. – and I’m guessing that he used at least two of them to make the story clearer than it was to me.

So should I look for a newer translation? Probably not right now. Dryden has worked for me for several years. But even more important than that, if I set Dryden aside while I shop for a different translation and while I wait for it to arrive, that schedule will still be there, and I want to keep to it. I just have to remind myself that over the course of three-thousand six-hundred fifty-two days, I will reach periods when I’m not fully ready to assimilate everything I read. Life has its rhythms. Its times and tides wait for no plan.

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