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Friday, January 11, 2008

A Busy Life and an Old Friend

This close-up will probably give a better idea than a dreamy panorama of the quality of today's snow. Heavy. Wet. Gorgeous.

To say it was a busy day in the bookstore today would be putting it mildly. For one thing, I had new book orders to unpack, customers to call, and another set of requests to order. Then there was the business of getting my faculty e-mail account up and running so I could download and print out class lists. (There have been many changes in academic life in the decade since I’ve been away from it.) And of course (see posting from earlier today) there was Sarah. She and I had several sessions of Come-Sit-Stay, as well as several walks down the street. We also had visits from friends and well-wishers who just couldn’t wait to meet her. (Joanne alone made three visits, Pat two.) I’m happy to report that there wasn’t a nay-sayer in the crowd. It’s unanimous: Sarah is a darling puppy and will be a great asset to the bookstore.

With puppy and teaching added to my schedule, it may be more challenging to post regularly in the coming weeks, but I’ll do my best. To give substance to that pledge, and to prove that I’m not ignoring books altogether, even on what is only Sarah’s second evening at home with us, here is something on an old favorite author (and if I miss a day next week, remember that I posted twice today!):

David was watching television one recent evening when I took up a book, but when I was only a few pages into it, he asked what I was reading. When told it was THE CHINESE EYE: AN INTERPRETATION OF CHINESE PAINTING, he invited me to read to him. I thought I might as well go back and begin at the beginning, but first I read a bit from the blurbs on the back of the book, next turning to the front of the book to tell David the author’s name. The name! Suddenly it struck me: this book was by the Silent Traveler! David remembered the Silent Traveler, too. “Simple, declarative sentences,” he recalled. “Equal attention to everything around him. Have I got it?” Yes, and also a cheerful, kindly, benevolent disposition. Whether in New York, Boston, London or Paris, the Traveler’s observations were those of a happy man, describing everything around him with goodwill. I opened the book on Chinese art with eager confidence now, in place of my earlier mild interest. It was like beginning to explore a strange town, only to encounter an old friend in residence.

Ah, but I have not yet told his name! Chiang Yee, graduate of Nanjing University (Nanjing is a city I’ve long wanted to visit), left China for London in 1933, living and working there for many years before coming to the United States in 1955 and eventually gaining U.S. citizenship. He never returned to his homeland, but its influence never left his life. He retained his “Chinese eye.”

If I had to describe Yee’s writing in a single word, it would be that vague and overworked word, “charming.” Whatever is going on in your own life, when you enter Yee’s world you can’t help becoming calm and centered, taking on his general benevolence. I recommend viewing life through Yee’s particular “Chinese eye.” It makes for very happy traveling.

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