HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

May 28, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


In a way, being away from home activates the mind, but not in a manner to inspire immediate writing. What does one say about being in Maryland. Annapolis is more populous, and more crowded than Montpelier. But everybody knows that. What they might not know is that people in Annapolis drive more aggressively than they do in Vermont. Why that should be I'm not sure. It's a case for sociological analysis.

It's easier to keep up with world affairs when you're at home than it is when you're traveling. On the road, routines are upset and the hours regularly devoted to something at home get spun away into other activities.

When I'm in Annapolis I've got in the habit of going regularly to the Barnes and Noble at the Harbour Center -- which is actually not very near to the harbor. It has a good coffee shop which is rarely crowded, in contrast with the Starbucks just down the way. The effect of a Barnes and Noble is curious. When you first go in it seems a cavern of delights. But after you have wandered for several hours it can induce a melancholy mood. The majority of books in a Barnes and Noble are not worth reading. In fact, a considerable portion of them are pure silliness. I looked, for example, at Bernard Goldberg's Crazies To the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right for several minutes. It's just silliness from a small-minded man. There's little else to be said about it. After putting it down, I jotted in my notebook this thought: "Great sadness comes over me browsing in a bookstore. Though human understanding is extensive, it's not what it should be." I also thumbed through Huston Smith's The Soul of Christianity. Mr. Smith  is neither silly nor small-minded. But I couldn't see he was saying anything about Christianity that would be recognized as its soul by anyone other than religious studies scholars. He said, for instance, that the great principle of Protestant Christianity was a refusal to absolutize the relative. I wonder how many people who call themselves Protestants would recognize that as their great principle.

I did have an interesting experience at the before-mentioned Starbucks, where I went so early it was not yet crowded. I had not bought a newspaper, so I picked up a book from a shelf in a nook looking out on the neighboring Whole Foods store and read the first two chapters while I sipped my coffee and ate a maple-walnut scone. The book was a novel by Jerry Yulsman, published in 1984 and titled Elleander Morning. The chapter headings were years, stretching from 1913 to the 1980s. In the first two, a well-dressed woman in Vienna follows a young, dyspeptic, poverty-stricken painter to a huge coffee house and, there, takes a pistol from her purse and shoots him to death. Her motive is never mentioned -- at least in the two chapters I read. But the painter, though not named is clearly presented as the youthful Adolph Hitler. I was left speculating that the novel would tell us something of a world in which Hitler was murdered when he was twenty-four years old. I'm curious about what that world was, but probably not curious enough to track the book down and read the rest of it.

Thus do one's days pass, idly, away from home. I tend to think of them as fallow time. They are necessary to keep familiar soil from becoming sterile, but exactly what fertility they'll bring forth is impossible to predict.

I'll be back at home by the time the HSC reaches you next week. We'll see then whether the return makes any difference.


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