Reading and writing

Details of the forthcoming book will be released soon. In the meantime, to whet the appetite:

 

Neil took many courses in his retirement. Here he discusses taking a course with family friend Clare Hallward.
Sometimes with the Hallwards — and I do mean all the Hallwards young and older – you get more than you bargained for. Take, Clare, for example. At first glance you wouldn’t think Clare Hallward is an intimidating person. I’ve known Clare Hallward for a quarter of a century and I know, for a fact, that she doesn’t think she’s intimidating. Well, I’d advise you to take a second glance. Because if you don’t you might just find yourself on a banana peel or in the ditch.
Because that’s where I found myself – sliding on a banana peel into the ditch – after I signed up for a course at the Thomas More Institute. I knew Clare was also in the course which was one of the reasons I signed up. I thought she would be fun to be with in a course — you know, provocative and stimulating. And indeed she was. But, you know something. You can overdose on stimulation.
Let me explain what I mean. The course Clare and were taking together involved reading a series of biographies. Perhaps you think this was child’s play. Let me assure you it wasn’t. The biography on Dickens alone was twelve hundred pages long with a hundred pages or so of footnotes. As I told Clare and everybody else in the class when I finished this opus I knew more about Charles Dickens than I knew about my wife.
But do you think this was enough for Clare. Not on your life. I staggered into the weekly session having just finished the required reading of three hundred pages or so only to find Clare at her place with the Dickens biography (several times the size of a telephone directory) on the table in front of her and beside that a pile of other documents relating to Dickens that she had scrounged out, read a now threw into the discussion. She had found an obscure review called the Groundhog Literary Journal published once every four years in Red Deer, Alberta. How do you think the rest of us felt? As though we had brought pork and beans to a pot-luck supper and Clare walked in with champagne and caviar.
This feeling reached its apogee when we came to the biography of the tragic American writer, Sylvia Plath. The moderators assigned us one of the latest Plath biographies to read. I was determined to do a good job. I read the book carefully, made meticulous notes, marshalled my arguments and strode into the seminar room smiling inwardly with a good feeling of being well prepared to contribute to the discussion. This feeling didn’t last long. I was soon enlightened. Shortly after the discussion began I learned six biographies had been written on Plath. Not only that, Clare had rounded them up and read them all. Not only that  I could plainly see all six were laid out neatly in front of her place and she began, with erudition and good humour, to compare the five I hadn’t read to the one I had. How did I feel? Well, as though I had put on my very best suit for a party and just after I arrived at the party my pants fell down.
Would I sign up for another course with Clare? You bet your boots I would. But first I would see my optometrist and get a set of trifocals.

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