Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Library of America--and a Coincidence



Joyce and I have been subscribers to the Library of America since it first began. (Link to LOA's website.) Actually, we joined a little bit after its inception, and, later on, discovering that some of the first volumes we'd bought from them were not first printings, I searched the Internet for used-book sites that offered 1st of those early volumes--and gradually acquired them all (about a dozen or so?). As the pix at the bottom of the page show, we now have quite a few (i.e., hundreds) of volumes. Joyce has quite a few upstairs, too, where she's working furiously on her book about Abolitionist John Brown.

We use the books a lot. A few years ago, for example, on a Henry James kick--a "kick" I could not have imagined back in college, when I could not read James, try as I might (okay, I didn't try all that hard!)--I decided to read all his novels in the order he published them. I didn't have to buy an extra damned thing: All were in the LOA.

And now, as I'm now trying to read the Philip Roth books I've never gotten around to, I have to go no farther than the LOA to find the volumes I don't own (just a few--I was pretty good at buying, if not reading, Roth over the decades).

Although the LOA volumes are edited by dcholars, they are not flawless. In the Jack London volume, for example, the editor (who shall remain nameless) in an endnote declares this about London's spelling of the Alaskan coastal town of Skagway (its current spelling). London had spelled it Skaguay: "Since I have not found any record of a variant spelling of Skagway as Skaguay, and since London spells the town Skagway elsewhere in his Klondike fiction, I have assumed Skaguay a typographical error which slipped by in both publications [the novel, its serialization in The Saturday Evening Post] and have emended it to Skagway."

Well, "Skaguay" was indeed a common spelling during the Gold Rush of 1897-99 and earlier. Oops.

Anyway, a new LOA volume continues to arrive every month (and we also subscribe to the LOA's poetry series--and we also buy their occasional topical volumes; these are visible in the 3rd photo at the bottom--the volumes on the shelf below the "regular" ones). Just the other day--here came another new one, a collection of late writings by Louisa May Alcott.

But included with the shipment was another volume and a little note: "Dear Library of America Subscriber: We are pleased to enclose a copy of a special commemorative volume, Philip Roth at 80: A Celebration (Remarks delivered on the occasion of Philip Roth's 80th birthday), for you to enjoy free of charge."

Oh, yes! Happy coincidence!

The letter also says you can buy copies from the site for $5.

I read my gift book yesterday--a kind of a book for which the Germans have a word--die Festschrift (commemorative publication), a word that we've adopted into English--the OED lists 1898 as its earliest published use in our language.

But I'll postpone for a day or so my account of what's in that volume ... this has reached its reader-tolerance length, I fear.

To be continued ...




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 81


There are few pages remaining in the thick notebook of email that Betty and I exchanged during our four years of correspondence. I have not “read ahead” throughout this entire chapter—far too long, I know, for any chapter—and I do not recall how our exchanges ended. There are 383 pages in this notebook, and I am now looking at page 380. This part of the story will end today, I know.
On June 20, 2002, I wrote to her with a quick question about a trip Mary Shelley had taken to Paris in 1828. I added: Hoping each day brings you more strength. And I ended with our now-customary Fondly.
Page 381: Betty wrote back the next day with a thoughtful answer to my question. And … Fondly.
Page 382: I replied a couple of hours later. Thanks for the confirmation. I told her some more research and writing news, and then this: Let me know if you’re seeing visitors—for I will be in your area in the middle of July and would love to see you.  And … Fondly.
Page 383: Here’s the whole thing—Hi, Dan—Do let me know if you will be in the area in mid-July—Yes, I certainly am seeing friends—just a question of schedules—Fondly, Betty
And that’s the end.
What happened? I look at my journal for mid-July 2002, and I see that Joyce and I were indeed “in the area.” We were on an extended “literary” trip—spending some of the summer research money that Western Reserve Academy had given me. On July 16, our son’s thirtieth birthday, we were in Baltimore looking at and photographing Poe sites, but there is not a word in my journal about Betty, just the news that we drove on that day to Piedmont, West Virginia, hometown of Henry Louis Gates, the town he’d written about extensively in his wonderful memoir Colored People (1994), a book we were teaching to juniors at WRA.
Did I think about Betty that day we were so near to Washington, D. C.? I must have. Only a month before I’d written her with a promise, a promise that I’d patently broken. And in my journal for June I’d written this: sent e-mail back and forth to Betty Bennett, with whom I’ve not corresponded much this year (my fault); she’s had lung cancer and is now recovering fairly well; I’ll write more often now … But, of course, I didn’t.
I’m thinking some ugly thoughts about myself right now, about how I’d “moved on” to other interests, leaving behind a scholar and friend who’d been surpassingly generous with me. But Mary Shelley was more or less in my rear-view mirror; Poe lay before me (and I would indeed write a YA biography of him in the ensuing years). Although I would eventually upload the Shelley book to Kindle Direct Publishing in 2012, I hadn’t really dived back into the Shelley Sea—just updated some things. In fact, it wasn’t until I began this memoir that I rediscovered the pleasures of swimming (and diving) in that rich ocean of people and information.
But wait. Maybe I’m not as much of an ungrateful jerk as I think. I just did a name search for my 2003 journal—and found this from January 11: e-mail to Betty B to see how she’s doing and to let her know I’m thinking of her; I’m worried about her and have not heard from her in quite a while  I obviously didn’t print that one out—and it’s long gone (I’ve changed email accounts several times since then).
And this from December 29: replied to earlier e-mail from Betty B re: how I’m doing. Again—I have no copy.
May 18, 2004: e-mailed Betty Bennett to see what’s going on with her  No copy—just as there are no copies of any subsequent messages.
May 16, 2005: e-mail from/to Betty Bennett re: my health & some slides she’d like to use from the Shelleys in Italy. “My health”—I was nearing surgery for prostate cancer, just about a month away.
Christmas Eve, 2005: note from Betty Bennett (health problems from her, as well)—but warm & amiable … I must have written her about the results of my prostate cancer surgery in June 2005?
January 13, 2006: replied to e-mail from Betty Bennett re: the slides she borrowed from me (I’d forgotten she had them!)
February 7, 2006: wrote to Betty Bennett re: the new book (sigh)  The “new book” is a Mary Shelley title I’d recently reviewed. (It wasn’t very good—riddled with errors as I said in an earlier journal entry).
I can find no other references to Betty—or to BB (as I commonly referred to her in my journal)—after February 2006.
And then—August 12, 2006—Betty Bennett, 71, died of lung cancer at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D. C. Most of the obituary in the Washington Post is about her Shelley work (rightly so), and there’s an intriguing sentence near the end: She had completed work on a literary biography of Shelley, which is scheduled to be released by Harvard University Press. This can’t be true—I know she was not finished. I just checked the HUP site: no such listing.
The New York Times had only a brief “paid notice” about her death, posted by the Keats-Shelley Association. We shall miss, it says, her creative energy, her keen intellect, her kindness and her genuine friendship. Indeed.
The Post obituary ends with these touching words: Through her study of Shelley, Dr. Bennett said she learned what it was like for a woman to be on her own in the 19th century. “I gradually learned to be better able to be on my own in the 20th,” she said.
I flail myself with this thought: I’d not corresponded her her since that February exchange—even though I knew she was suffering. And worst of all? I did not even know she’d died until I began working on this memoir and checked the Post’s website. Can I ever hope to describe the rupture in my conscience—in my heart—when I found that obituary?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Back to Seidman Cancer Center

Seidman Cancer Center
Beachwood, OH
It was almost exactly a decade ago--December 13, 2004--that a urologist told me I needed to get a biopsy on my prostate gland. My family physician had noticed something during a routine physical, had referred me to the urologist, who then gave me the news. He did not seem worried--the test for Prostate Specific Antigen--PSA--had been in the normal range--but still, he said, we should check. And so, in January 2005, I had the biopsy (among the most unpleasant experiences of my life: I tried to recite "The Raven" in my head while it was happening, but he flew away very quickly). And then the news came: prostate cancer.

Well, as readers of these posts know, it was on to surgery (2005), radiation (2009), and then hormone-deprivation therapy (2013). The surgery had failed--as had the radiation. My PSA kept rising. But the quarterly injections of Lupron (which zaps my testosterone, the "food" of prostate cancer)--a temporary fix--have kept my PSA undetectable since my first blood test that came three months after the first injection in July 2013.

Last week I had my most recent blood test, and my PSA remains undetectable. Nearly a year and a half now. But I also know this is temporary: Lupron is not a cure; it's a delaying tactic. The cancer is clever. Figures things out. Adapts. Survives. (Curse you, Charles Darwin!)

Yesterday (Monday) I saw my oncologist up at the Seidman Cancer Center, and he remains encouraged. In fact, he held out the possibility that if my PSA remains undetectable in my next test (March 2015), he will try taking me off Lupron for a while. Just to see. He says my cancer is "behaving well"--which, of course, is a bit like saying that the invader in your home has been doing the dishes for you.

He also wants me to undergo a couple of bone tests (the cancer had been moving into my bones before Lupron interrupted that process), so after New Year's I'll be lying inside some scanners. I've done it before--several times--and it's more an inconvenience than a problem. Another hoop.

My symptoms remain fairly stable: no libido (no testosterone), periods of heat and sweating (though they seem more infrequent now--not the once/hour I have been experiencing), emotions near the surface (weepy, weepy boy am I), depression (why not?), much-diminished energy. And so on. I've also had some dizziness and instability lately, but I'm going to be seeing my family physician about those. Nothing too serious--just annoying. Could be Rx-drug related.

Before I left Seidman yesterday, I got my quarterly Lupron injection in the derrière. The only good thing about that? I couldn't watch--not that I wanted to.

Joyce remains my most potent weapon against all of this--holding my hand, encouraging me, holding my hand, holding my hand, holding my hand ...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 80


A few days later I replied, telling her I was so alarmed to receive your note—and am relieved your situation is improving. I told her I was thinking of her. Most of the rest of my fairly long email is, well, whining. I told her how hard I’d worked that first year back teaching; I told her how I hadn’t gotten much writing done as a result. Blah, blah, blah.
I ended with a promise: I will be a better correspondent now. I have been lousy. I think of you often, but I haven’t done a very good job of acting on those thoughts. Shame on me.
An hour later, Betty replied, thanking me for my note and thoughts. She added more about her situation: chemo every two weeks, and only part of the intruder is gone. I think about that term now—the intruder. It’s a perfect word for the arrival of death’s messenger.
And she added: It would be lovely to get back to the biography in anything but sporadic visits … but as my family & friends & doctors all point, first things first—
I wrote back a week later with news about my mother’s minor surgery and about my plan to return to teaching at WRA part-time rather than full. The offer was a good one. More whining, too, about the literary agency whose screeching silence was telling me that nothing was happening with my Shelley biography.
Betty replied briefly. She was continuing her treatments—most of my time involved in the healing process …
I replied the same day—was I really going to do better?—telling her that I had accepted the contract at WRA and that, yes, the agency’s silence had boded ill: They’d returned my manuscript, which, as far as I could tell, had not suffered from anyone’s actually having read it. I ended with something that from my position twelve years down the road seems surpassingly insensitive. I complained about a summer cold. How did this happen? I spent the entire school year in company with sniffling adolescents and suffered not a sniffle of my own. And now—two weeks after graduation—I’m hacking away …
Yes, a summer cold is awful, isn’t it? What a thing to write to someone struggling with lung cancer.
Many of us find such things difficult, though—knowing what to say to someone suffering from a dread disease. I obviously had trouble with it, and I know from conversations I’ve had about my own cancer that others have difficulty, too. I guess we must learn to accept the intended comfort rather than the words themselves. We learn to feel the balm of the sounds themselves, sounds borne by sorrow and hope. And we are grateful.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 28


1. We had a nice dinner last night at Dontino's in North Akron. Joyce and I met Steve, Melissa, Logan, and Carson about 6:30 and proceeded to eat all the bread in Summit County before the entrees arrived. I always feel so much better when I've seen them--an injection of energy, humor, love.

2. Okay, a confession. I did not see Sex Tape when it came out earlier this year. We saw the previews a few times but didn't go to see the film, featuring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz, whose self-made/iPad video of their three-hour romp (Lord! How is that even possible!?) ended up in the cloud where the world had access to it. (Link to trailer for the film.) Anyway, what I'm saying is: We did not see it. (We have standards!)

But then ... I had some room in my Netflix queue, and with, you know, an inadvertent "click" I scheduled it.

And this week it arrived. And I've been watching it while I wait for Joyce to finish her work and come to bed--I mean, I paid for it, so I can't, you know, just send it back. I must emphasize here: Joyce is NOT watching it. She has standards! Though those standards seem to have failed her in the husband-selection category.

3. I've been catching up on some writers whose books have come out faster than my ability to read them. I just recently caught up with Joyce Carol Oates, and now I've started with Philip Roth. I'm almost finished with his wrenching 2010 novella Nemesis, about a polio outbreak  in New Jersey during WW II. It's got an interesting narrative technique (one of the victims is telling the story, but, at least so far, he's not part of the story in many other ways; he's telling about others who were affected in one way or another). I'll not say more now, but will blog about it more comprehensively when I finish it.

4. Speaking of Netflix ... we've been delighted with the documentary Your Inner Fish (based on a book I recently finished) and, especially, with the new episodes now available of one of our all-time favorite shows: Doc Martin. He (played wonderfully by actor Martin Clunes) is one of the most unique characters in television history, I think--one of the most memorable--enjoyable--embarrassing (oh, does he have some issues!). Wonderful cast all the way through.




Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Basketball Memory



Yesterday, I was having lunch with an old college friend (Don Bartlett), and we were sharing stories about playing on the freshman basketball team decades ago at Hiram College. Don, a year younger than I, was a much better player, and, deservedly, got more court time than I'd had in my freshman year..

I had arrived at Hiram with Delusions of Athletic Grandeur. I had played on the Hiram High School varsity team for three years ("We are the Huskies, the mighty, mighty Huskies ..."), had been named to the All-Portage County Team (2nd team) in 1962, and thought--daffily--that I was going to star for Hiram College. It took only a practice or two to disabuse me of that notion. I played a few disastrous minutes early in the season, but by the end of all I was moving down the bench, farther and farther away from the coach, and eventually--as I've written elsewhere--became kind of a transitional figure, part player, part crowd member.

But the talk with Don reminded me of one of the moments in my high school career. We were playing Atwater (a southern Portage County school, which now, like Hiram High, no longer exists, having been absorbed into consolidation), a team with a superstar, Chick Campbell (who went on to star for Mount Union; we held him to 57 that night). The date: January 13, 1962. (I still have our schedule--see photo.)



I should say that the Huskies, in my era, did not win too many games, principally because, well, we sucked. (That changed in the the next few years, once I was gone.)  Anyway, about that game ...

In the first half, I missed my first shot (no surprise) but then made nine straight (surprise--big surprise). I don't think any of those shots even touched the rim. Once--to my embarrassment--I cried out "Short!" as I released the ball, then watched it nearly tear the net off as it passed through. (No one, so far as I can recall, laughed.)

I was dazzled at halftime. I'd already scored more points than my end-of-the-year average (17), and I was having dreams of 30 or so (see what a team player I was!).

It was not to be. Things changed in the second half, things I'd rather not get into. I made only one more basket.

Hiram High Huskies
Bob Waller--on the far left, #23


But there was a moment--a single moment--that remains to be told. One of my good high school friends was Bob Waller (who went on to get a Ph.D. in chemistry at CWRU). Bob didn't get to play much, but he was in the game near the end at Atwater that night. I was still obsessed with points and wanted more but hadn't had many opportunities to shoot (I'd rather not get into it), but near the very end, I knocked the ball loose from an Atwater guy, and started dribbling to the other end, envisioning an easy lay-up. Points.

But then I saw Bob Waller on my right, a little ahead of me, sprinting for the basket. Uh, oh. Pass? Or ignore him and take the easy lay-up and the points!?

Bob and I used to laugh about "getting your name in the paper"--i.e., scoring even a single point would get you into the box score (right term for basketball?) in the local Kent-Ravenna Evening Record-Courier. Yes ... name in the paper.

I kept dribbling. But also remembering Bob was my good friend. Who wanted to see his name in the paper. I was seventeen years old, profoundly self-absorbed, wanted points.

But there was Bob, on my right, nearing the hoop ...

And ...

I passed the ball.

And Bob scored.

Got his name in the paper.

Flash forward fifty years. I saw Bob Waller at our 50th high school reunion in the summer of 2012. I'd not seen him in a long, long time. I reminded him of that pass. And he smiled, said he remembered it too.

If you enlarge, you can see the box score.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 79


Not one word did I say in reply to her request for suggestions for her syllabus. Each letter of that previous sentence humiliates me. Was I truly so self-absorbed in 2001? I was fifty-seven years old.

Betty didn’t reply—unlike her, but I can’t say that I blame her, either. Early in December I sent her a little note—with an article I’d found online. How are you doing? I asked in my three-sentence email.
On December 2 she wrote to say that she’d seen the fairly recent New York Times review of Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley (October 7, 2001) and had a couple of comments about reviewers (I was a reviewer!) who don’t really know much about what they’re reviewing. (If she only knew!)
And then she dropped this tasty little appetizer on my plate: I am already thinking in terms of what extremely loyal friends will be willing to read through the very (& I mean rough) draft (after I have done some sandpapering first & spackling first) …
She didn’t really ask me, did she? But I leaped at the bait like a starving rainbow trout. A couple of days later I wrote: I hope your remark about “extremely loyal friends” looking at your early MWS draft includes me! I would be honored …. But if I’ve overstepped … let me know that, too. I have a pretty rough-bark ego and will understand. (Actually, I have a fragile ego, but I will STILL understand!) I went on and wrote a bit about her point concerning ignorant reviewers—then told her about some travel plans: another trip out to Oregon and a planned visit to Massachusetts to visit family.
Then … nearly six months of silence.

On May 31, 2002, Betty wrote this: It has been so long since we were last in touch. My reasons: I had a biopsy that was positive [lung cancer]. I am doing very well indeed—chemo plus lots of alternative treatments just about daily—to get the intruder out! And it is vanishing!! … I hope and trust your silence was not caused by any event similar …
No, Betty, my silence was caused not by a cancer diagnosis but by pure inattentiveness—perhaps even selfishness. And, of course, just about three years after Betty’s note I would have my own cancer diagnosis, would undergo my own surgery, radiation, chemical treatment. But that was in the future, and I was continuing to live and act as if I were immortal.

Oh, and Betty never did reply to my offer to read her draft. As I would learn, she had her reasons, and they were dark ones.