Look Forward, Angel

Today I began re-reading Thomas Wolfe’s 1929 classic book, Look Homeward, Angel. That’s not, by the way, Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, the dandy who was born after Angel was written (and who composed Bonfire of The Vanities) but Thomas Wolfe of the ruffled hair and leather trunk filled with wild manuscript pages.

Seems odd to me, as I look back to the time when I first read Thomas Wolfe’s tomes, that I picked them off the bookstore shelf. I cannot remember whether or not I read a back-cover blurb and there discovered similarities between Wolfe’s tale and my own. I suspect that I chose the books quite by accident, and just because the work extended itself for a countless number of pages. I owned time to spare for matters of the heart and soul, and I intended to make good use of that time.

I recall sitting on bus stop benches, waiting for my ride to work, and forgetting my life for sake of absorbing Thomas’s (the book and its sequels are autobiographical in nature). My focused absorption felt like pure pleasure, greater pleasure than I had endured with my ex-wife in bed in Philadelphia. Thomas Wolfe spoke of love and of adventure, but adventure took center stage. I had tried out romantic love and found it lacking, but my entanglement with the unknown day-to-day events as I encountered them on this fresh, sunlit coastline, satisfied me and left me feeling certain that I would survive, that I knew how to work and earn my keep, that I therefore would not starve to death.

A few years back I read a vague article written by a book reviewer for The New York Times (sufficient years back in time that I read this article as it was printed on paper).

This stuffy reviewer, an expert without the talent to pen a book of his own, as is so often the case, opined that one could read Thomas Wolfe’s work — and appreciate the same — only when young. He insisted that any attempt to re-read these novels once old age approached would result in disappointing boredom.

At the time, I let this reviewer’s opinion slide its way across and beyond the top of my head. I was, after all, preoccupied then with the toils and troubles associated with a job in education. No time, I thought, to test a theory.

As I look back now to my years inside the trap known as the education profession, I am reminded of how disgusted I felt each time a colleague would insist to me that teaching students left no time for reading other than research articles, and certainly no time for the fun of reading novels. “But we’re scholars, aren’t we?” I’d say. “We insist that our students read, no?”

And the blank look that traced my sad remark left me frustrated with the lot of ignoramuses with whom I felt forced to contend each day.

I never gave up on reading novels as I worked my jobs, and research articles sickened me more with each passing paragraph. But not until today did I decide to test that long-ago, stuffy reviewer’s theory regarding the works of Thomas Wolfe.

Now wouldn’t I seem facile and silly if next I were to say that Mr. Stuffiness was wrong, that Look Homeward, Angel is a fine work for retired old farts to enjoy?

Yes, I would seem ludicrous indeed. And truth be told, I haven’t yet re-read enough pages to warrant a wise opinion on this subject. Let it be known, however, that I love old-fashioned books. Know, as well, that most of today’s genre fiction is, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, absolute trash that competes best — if at all — with the likes of television dramas. Brain dead stories. Pabulum for the semi-literate among us. Meaningless repetitions in the key of mediocre.

So, I’ll let you know in time to come how all comes out. I’ll read all of Look Homeward, Angel, then continue with the prize called Of Time and The River, top that off with my second read of The Web and The Rock, and finish the journey with You Can’t Go Home Again.

Yes, I’ll let you know how I feel when I feel it. For the moment, however, I’m certain of this fact: reading Thomas Wolfe’s books will afford me more pleasure than watching television dramas could ever hope to offer me. As well, and as if you need to hear me say this, I am at least as stuffy a man as the New York Times reviewer who so impressed me several years ago.

By the way, and on a completely separate note, I this morning — after tussling with Thomas, penned a couple of Letters To The Editor, in which I wrote of the bloated claims of today’s educators. Retirement is sweet.

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