February 6th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances


I was browsing books on Petrarch's Triumphs in the library yesterday. The aisle was a short one, only three or four bookcases long, but there were already two people in this one, two cases and three feet away from me. I didn't mind. I was there for the sort of purpose that doesn't mind listening in on other peoples' conversation as an incidental byproduct of being there.

They were undergrads, a young man and a young woman, talking to each other with animated passion about what they noticed on the bookshelf. Chaucer in particular sparked enthusiasim. The young man said he would be reading all of Canterbury Tales this summer, said that Chaucer was such a good writer, he made other writers seem inadequate. A comment that like does not say 'showing off' to me, so much as it says 'passion with blinders on'. The young woman was equally enthusiastic. They discussed the way in which the book came to life, the way different professors dealt with it. They were equally interested in the other books on that shelf, by other late medieval and early modern authors.

I sat down with my armful of books to figure out which bits of which would be most useful to me. My excitement didn't come from the general prospect of reading what I'd been browsing, although I admit to great curiousity on th subject. I could not have been one of their conversationalists. Instead, I was delighted to find that an on campus professor, one I know, had edited a volume of essays on the Triumphs, and that perhaps I might be able to discuss it with him in person one of these weeks; but that was delight, and not a fervent ardor per se for these texts. It made me feel jaded, or at very least, older.

A few minutes later, they wandered by, still fully engaged in the joys of discussing literature.