Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stale Bread

In the last section of Edward Rutherfurd’s Russka, an American of Russian descent visiting the Motherland finds a small restaurant in which a woman serves consistently stale bread. Every morning she bakes a fresh loaf but still serves the day-old bread until every crumb is gone. The visitor suggests that if she threw out the stale bread just once, her customers could enjoy fresh bread. Each loaf would run out by evening, but the next day’s lunch customers would have a new, fresh treat to enjoy.

In keeping up this blog, I often feel like the owner of that restaurant. Many times during the year I finish one book without having written a post about the previous book. When I do finally write the post, my thoughts obviously aren’t as fresh as they were when I was interacting with the book daily. Then after I’ve written it, I’m on to yet a third reading assignment without blogging about the second. If I would skip writing about just one book, my posts could perhaps come across less stale. But I don’t want to skip writing about any of the items on my list.

I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that a big part of my problem has to do with memory. My wife is reading a Charles Williams novel now that I read just last year, but as we talk about it, we both notice that I can’t remember the characters’ names or what they did. I only remember pictures of a few salient scenes and an idea or two. I read a lot, and I have a job, and maybe I just shouldn’t expect myself to remember all the details. But I’m fifty-four, and memory is definitely starting to weaken. We heard “Everybody Hurts” today, and I couldn’t remember the name of the band. I could remember other songs: “Shiny Happy People” and “Losing My Religion.” I could remember the name of the album Automatic for the People and even the name of lead singer Michael Stipe. But I couldn’t come up with R.E.M.

This morning, as I read On Old Age, Cicero told me that aged people don’t have to lose mental acuity if they exercise their minds. I thought of the nuns I’ve read about who seem to stave off Alzheimer’s by doing crossword puzzles. The Pythagoreans, according to the Roman statesman, improved their memories by reciting aloud each evening the things they had done, read, seen, and heard that day. In an astonishing coincidence, I read this later today in Boswell: “We talked of old age. Johnson (now in his seventieth year,) said, ‘It is a man’s own fault, it is from want of use, if his mind grows torpid in old age.’ ”

As you can see, I’m well into two items on my reading schedule that I haven’t substantially blogged about yet (more than the brief but admittedly fresh snippets in the present post) Most recently, I wrote about Dorothy Sayers – a couple of days after I had finished reading. And now I’m spending time writing about how I can’t always find the time to keep up with the blog. I’m not going to catch up any time soon. So I’m just going to have to work on my memory. It’s getting late. I should post this squib, then tell myself out loud about the things I read today. Then I think I’ll do a crossword puzzle.

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