July 24th, 2008

Vanitas desk

Book Itch

I knew I'd put the last two books somewhere safe. Somewhere memorable. It was time to leave to go meet a_d_medievalist, but without a book to read on the train, I found myself searching the house for those last two unread books. I knew where the last five I'd read were, but it was too soon to reread any of them. I knew where hundreds of others were, read and unread, but taped away in boxes, they were effectively inaccessible when in a hurry. Eventually, despite it all, I need to go. I took Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants, and finished it one stop before my destination.

For years, I've been thinking of myself as a non-compulsive reader. In Toronto, I couldn't afford to be in the middle of unscheduled non-academic reading when I had work to do; my mind would be distracted. At Limehouse, my travels were broken up into segments, five minutes here, ten minutes there. A book was pleasant, but an optional extra. I could spent ten minutes looking at subway posters, or just pondering the world. Sure, I still needed books for longer-distance travel (trains, planes), but they were merely choice distractions; good conversation or an mp3 player would do just as well.

But yesterday, worry of being on the Underground for 45 minutes without a book niggled at me, and a_d_medievalist kindly accompanied me while I choice from a limited selection of bestsellers at a small W.H. Smith (enabling, along the way, my first glimpse of the renovated grandeurs of St. Pancras). I couldn't loiter and I recognized almost none of the books. major_clanger's recent endorsement of Marr's History of Modern Britain swayed one of my purchased, and for my half-price second, I went with a Richard and Judy book list endorsement, Addition, for lighter prose. Worry asuaged, I went on to nab yet another book in the BSFA raffle. I was more than set for my ride home last night, a selection of books weighing me down, and peace in my book-needy mind.
Fishy Circumstances

Leonard Cohen concert

He was a miniature on a stage hundreds of meters distant, blown up in detail on the three screens hanging in the air, but Leonard Cohen can command an arena. His voice is rich, deep, commanding, his expressions evocative and amusing, and he thinks about his songs as he sings them. His nine backup instrumentalists and singers were varied and talented, from his co-writer Sharon Robinson and the folksy elegancy of the Webb Sisters, to the lively verve of his multi-instrumental wind player and guitar and organ players.

I was just as glad I only knew two of his albums. Half the songs were a surprise, lyrics vividly communicated; even the ones I already knew were new again in performance. Lyrics I'd never paid attention to caught my attention. "Hallelujah", "Take this Waltz", and "Suzanne" were riveting. For a three hour concert - including three-or-so extended encores - the performers kept my attention throughout. The audience was wonderfully silent, caught in the spell. For the first half, the drunk girls in front of us bopped along to all songs. For a few, the audience sang along - but appropriately.

It might have been the last night of the move, but it was worth the break, worth braving the enormity of the O2 for the first time, for this concert. The only problem with the O2? Leaving it post-concert. It took us an hour to get into the Underground station.