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Summer reading beats blah, blah, blahs

The joy of summer for me is to retreat into some shade with books at hand to recharge my battery.

I am acutely aware this simple pleasure is a luxury for most people elsewhere.

And escape from the pressing needs of survival consumes just about every ounce of energy, as it once did for me 40 summers ago in the midst of an ugly war in the vast delta of the mighty Ganges in Bengal.

I cannot recall one solitary summer since I escaped the horrors of war when there was a pause, and the world took a break from its oldest agony of Cain’s murder of Abel.

Summer readings may well be an escape from the relentless 24/7 news cycle of grief.

Mine this summer is with Edward Gibbon’s three-volume set of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire published by Penguin.

I had read portions of Gibbon from my father’s library during high school years a long time ago.

I decided this summer Gibbon will be my companion as I indulge myself in the majesty of his prose and wander through the caverns of his mind as he narrates the greatest story told since Thucydides sat down to write about the Peloponnesian War for posterity.

Gibbon is my main course, though like any main course it needs to be accompanied by side dishes.

And so I have Ivan Turgenev’s Spring Torrents, a short novel by this great Russian writer, and contemporary of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gogol, about the bliss of love’s first encounter between a young man and an older woman.

Then beside me there are a few small anthologies of poems translated from Persian of Rumi and Hafiz, a collection of some modern Arab poets, and a small volume of selected poems of Czeslaw Milosz, awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980.

Poetry is dessert for the soul.

And about reading I am reminded of Montesquieu’s advice, “I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.”

There is more insight and everlasting wisdom in a few pages of Gibbon than the endless stream of verbiage poured forth in contemporary journalism, and in the inflated output of academic experts, think-tank gurus, policy wonks and political pundits.

Our senses are deadened by the over-abundance of words that surround us every minute of every waking hour.

We need to tune out, from time to time, this cacophony of sound and fury that Macbeth, late in his act, realized for what it is, “signifying nothing.”

Summer reading thoughtfully selected allows one to enter once again the realm of the eternal, to behold or taste with John Keats what is beautiful and is “a joy forever.”

Our frenzied world is in part a reflection of our own demented frenzy.

Our restlessness speaks of our thirst for a whiff of the eternal, but our formal education has become a travesty as it works like acid to deaden our souls.

Summer reading is opening a door and walking away in the company of masters to a world where it is always summer, and a book of verse is a key to the bliss of eternity.

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Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen

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