Welcome to The Once Lost Wanderer. The name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by reformed slave trader John Newton, and All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.

I started reading The Pickwick Papers way back in March 2016, and just finished it in November 2017, but this long read is NOT because I am a slow reader. I read The Pickwick Papers as part of a 20 month read along, hosted by On Bookes, to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the first publication; it was published serially beginning in March 1836, 2-3 chapters a month, with no installment in May 2017. It was Dickens’ first novel, published under the pseudonym “Boz”.

First, thanks to On Bookes for hosting this unusual and fun read along. I am happy I stuck with it to the end. On Bookes researched and posted bits of trivia regarding what was going on in London as each installment came out – creating the feeling that we were reading it like the original readers. My understanding, that around chapter 10, and the introduction of Mr. Pickwick’s valet Sam Weller, The Pickwick Papers became perhaps the first great publishing phenomenon ever.

The Pickwick Papers is a farcical romp, definitely the most comic of any work by Dickens I’ve read. In short, it is the story of Samuel Pickwick, founder of The Pickwick Club, London 1827. Pickwick is a man with a “gigantic brain” and a passion for science, philosophy, art, and adventure, who according to his own description is “an observer of human nature”.

The Pickwick club, commissions Pickwick and three companions to set out upon a quest of sorts, to pursue adventure and discovery and to record said adventures for posterity. Pickwick’s three companions, Mr. Tracy Tupman, Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr. Nathaniel Winkle are each known for one particular passion which is their unique distinction: Tupman for an admiration for the fair sex, Snodgrass as a poet, and Winkle as a sportsman. These four receive hearty approval and commission from their fellow Pickwickians and set out in pursuit of the greater glory of The Pickwick Club.

The Pickwickians are all very decent chaps at heart, but all are a bit bombastic and Dickens delights in bringing them down a notch or two by ironic twists of fate and the clumsy do-goodery of the troop. I’ve alluded to one other principal character, Mr. Sam Weller, Pickwick’s valet. Sam is worldly wise and fiercely loyal to Pickwick and as you might imagine, more than once saves Pickwick and/or colleagues from embarrassing situation.

Of course, all comes right in the end. As Mr. Pickwick settles into a leisurely retirement, Dickens writes:

Let us leave our old friend in one of those moments of unmixed happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some, to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them.

Although I enjoyed the read along format, this is not my favorite Dickens, though I have only read, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and The Cricket on the Hearth. Not my favorite, but I can see how the serialization, and the resulting cliff-hangers would have created excitement and anticipation. There were a few months, when after finishing the allotted installment, I was tempted to read ahead. I never did though…Honest!

My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars

Trivia – near the beginning of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the March girls are acting out scenes from The Pickwick Papers.

This book was not part of my 100 Greatest Novels Quest.

Monthly reviews from the read along 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tsundoku (No, not the math puzzle) - NOVA this week.

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

Not much to say this week. I learned a new word and it struck me that many of you – fellow book bloggers – are afflicted with this.

Tsundoku – accumulating books without reading them.

I’m pretty good about actually reading what I acquire, so my physical TBR is not really that excessive. However, my virtual TBR – outta control.

Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity ... we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance. ~ A. Edward Newton

(Woulda loved to have been at his estate auction. Lots of gems and at a time when prices for rare books was low.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Life Uncommon - Original Prose

Life Uncommon

In the autumn, I watched. I watched my trees, my beloved trees; maple, birch, cherry, pine and others. I watched as they began their slow familiar transformation from vibrant green, to yellow, red and gold. I always watch this drama with a mixture of dread and delight. Delight for the beauty of the scene; delight for the comical way the changeless spruce, the fragile fir, and the towering cedar mock the mightier trees that cannot suffer the fast approaching blight. And delight for the perfect simplicity of creation. But dread; dread for the coming chill, shortened days, dismal nights, and relentless cold. Too long will the barren white blanket my world. The bitter beauty of that scene holds little charm for me. But powerless to avert nature's design, I watched. Slowly the leaves will reach their zenith and die, slowly unless a hard rain or north wind speeds their demise.

I watched till the last leaf had fallen. The wood seemed sparse now without its summer canopy. I spotted a curious sight: a mature maple, with a low limb and a single brown leaf. I drew close to examine the stubborn leaf. It was unremarkable save only in its tenacity. So, I watched. I watched the lonely leaf. Every day, according to custom, I would rise and look for it, expecting it to be gone. But it lingered. The cold rains of October came and it lingered. The killing frost of November and the chilling snow of December came and it lingered. The deep freeze of January and the bitter breeze of February came and it lingered. The long awaited sun of March and the lengthened days of April came and still, it lingered. Finally, the showers of May came and turned to warmth and sunshine, and then, it was gone. Not only fallen, but gone. In its place, I discovered a small green bud…new life.

I had always smiled at the foolish leaf, knowing its battle was futile; the end would surely come. In vain it held to life only to relent in the end. It survived the elements of the harshest season, yet it could not survive nor prevent new life. I wondered; perhaps its quest was not life eternal, but life uncommon.

It is written in the old book that the creator has chosen the simple things of this world to confound the wise. For a season, he sent a simple leaf to confound me. In the end I took comfort, for herein is wisdom. I will not live as other men. I will not bow to convention. I will live, life uncommon.

© 2017 Joseph E. Fountain