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Book Report: The Incomplete Amorist

So. A few months ago, Your Humble Blogger took a quick cross-country airplane trip. Twelve hours on airplanes to spend nineteen hours in California, to dance at an old friend’s wedding. It was… tiring. But then I knew it would be tiring, and so I packed light. In fact, I didn’t take any books at all. I didn’t take any hard-copy book, I mean; I took my netbook and the fifty or so books stored on its hard drive. But nothing else to read except the in-flight magazine.

It’s all part of my experiment in reading off a screen. See, since it turns out I have a fondness for the Victorian Novel, I figure that the moment I decide I like reading off a screen I have a million pages of free books. Until then, I have to check them out of the library, which admittedly is also free, but costs me the time to, well, get up from my desk and walk up to the third floor. Or I could just snag a book off one of the carts that roll past my desk, to be honest. Free literature isn’t really lacking in my life at the moment. But the point is the same, or nearly: if I decide I like reading off a screen, I immediately have lots of options. And when I am traveling, if I am going to be schlepping my netbook anyway (and I am), it would be nice not to also carry around a couple of paperback.

Anyway. I tried it. I did manage to complete one book on the trip; The Incomplete Amorist by E. Nesbit. It’s not a kids book, as you might have guessed from the title, and it seriously isn’t a kids book: promiscuity, lesbianism, prostitution, art. Oh, there’s nothing explicit. One could certainly get through the book without realizing that the prostitute was lesbian, except that her hopeless passion for the ingénue is the only thing that makes that part of the plot make sense. Also, the scenes where the ingénue is innocently prattling about how happy they are in their domesticity would be pointless and annoying if the reader weren’t watching, as it were, the effect on the Fallen Woman that she has so guilelessly Saved. If the reader just assumes (as I do) that any character not specifically told as being in love with some other character is as likely to be in love with another character of the same sex as with the opposite sex, then those scenes work. As I am almost certain they were intended to.

Another terrific thing about the book is the Aunt. Aunts are a particular wonder of British Literature, and this specimen is a legitimate contender for the Aunts Hall of Fame, in the Worldly and Helpful wing.

Digression: My advice, should you visit the Aunts Hall of Fame, is to do the Forbidding Aunts in the morning. I know it’s a bit much to face Aunt Agatha, Mrs. Reed and Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong before lunchtime, but you can follow it up with the Off-Stage Aunts (Paddington Bear’s Aunt Lucy and of course Charley’s Aunt), have a bite of lunch in Aunt Lucy’s Kitchen (do not try anything with Aunt Martha and Aunt Abby’s names) and then see the Exciting Aunts (Graham Greene’s and Mario Vargas Llosa’s prominent among them, along with Auntie Mame). Tea in the Mothering Aunt’s wing, naturally, probably in the Aunt-Hill (try Aunt Bee’s Checkerboard Chess Pie); don’t forget Aunt Polly and Aunt May. Then, if you have time, why not stop by the Uncle’s Closet? End Digression

Alas, I have to say that the experiment was not really a success. I mean, yes, I did read a book off the screen, and I can do it again in a pinch (and, in fact, have read another since, making three novels altogether, I think) but it wasn’t really comfortable.

And I finished the whole damned in-flight magazine.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,