a review of books we have not read:
Reviewed by Goran Kimsson
My favorite book I haven't read is hard to decide. I have not, for instance, read this book called “John Milton” which is quite big and stands on the bookshelf there between two books called
“Conductors of Chaos: A Poetry Anthology” and “Last Night's Dream Corrected”, neither of which I have read but which prompt me to ask the question: what the hell was someone thinking?
That is what I think most of the time, by the way: what the hell was someone thinking? I guess I can't get over myself. I guess we can't know what someone else was thinking. Or is. Or whatever.
For instance: What the hell was John Milton thinking? I've no clue. He is upside down on the shelf, the next to bottom shelf of the bookshelf, probably because my daughter got to him and put him back the wrong way. She likes to take books out and replace them upside-down and out of order. She also likes to find books that are open and then close them. Sometimes she uses crayons to draw pictures of SpongeBob and Patrick inside the books. Never Squidward. I'm looking at the book called “John Milton” and I feel absolutely no urge to read it. Maybe I’ll convince my daughter to draw a picture of Squidward in it. Squidward seems more appropriate.
I look out the window and across the street where the maple leaves are starting to turn red. I didn't think it would be so soon. Last week a dead raccoon lay on the road with its intestines out but over the weekend the vultures came and carried what was left away in a matter of just an hour. Their 9-5 job must have kept them away and they couldn’t get around to it sooner.
I like to think that maybe that has something to do with Milton but I know that’s just wishful thinking. It’s hard to imagine that raccoons and vultures existed in the 17th century. I can’t imagine Milton ever writing about raccoons.
The book is, for the record, the red one with a face on the spine. It is, now that I have taken it out, and reluctantly turned it over and looked at it, published by Oxford Paperbacks.
Looking at the picture of Milton you can also draw some conclusions. For instance, Milton's lips are very red and puckered and his hair is very thin-looking. His chin protrudes. He is wearing one of those things around his neck that looks like a collar a dog would have to wear to prevent it from licking itself. I wonder if Milton licked himself. But his eyes look surprisingly clear. Unless they are made of glass. Or maybe the artist was kind-- “Don't worry, Johnny boy. We will paint in the eyes.”
It says here: “Milton's influence on English poetry and criticism has been incalculable”. It is by all accounts an inspired work. A line in the little biography reveals itself upon opening the book: “blind and in straitened circumstances he returned to poetry”. I don't know what “straitened” means but I like it. We should assume that Milton was blind though and maybe that can help explain some things. Like maybe he lived in some kind of perpetual darkness and hell.
I have never known any blind people but most of my family suffers from either attention deficit disorder or bad hearing. There was that one funny story where my Mom and Aunt were sitting in an Italian restaurant and my Aunt kept trying to tell my Mom something and my Mom just kept nodding, pretending as if she could hear her, until my Aunt screamed: “You have to get on the other side of me because you can't fucking hear with that ear.”
My hearing, however, is fine.
I wonder if it's like that with Milton. Like if we could only get to the other side of Milton then maybe we would understand each other better. But the other side of Milton is the back of his head and he can’t see from that side either. Maybe my daughter could draw him some eyes back there too.
Holding the book in my hand now, it truly is quite massive, and I can't help but be distracted by a piece of paper that has been stuck into the middle of the book. Pulling it out, I find that it's not just a piece of paper but a card and not just any card but a wedding invitation. The invitation has my wife's name on it. It is an invitation to her wedding, but as I can clearly see, it is not an invitation to our wedding. My lips pucker and turn red. The invitation has a photo of a man and a woman lying on a crescent moon. The card is badly smudged and stained. It reads: “Today I will marry my friend.”
I shove the card into the book called “John Milton” and replace the book on the shelf but this time sideways, laying it on top of other books which I have not read and now will never read: The Awakening, Great Expectations, Candle Spells and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.
Milton’s wife probably left him. Fucking asshole. Fuck you John Milton, I say under my breath. Go fuck yourself.
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