Tuesday, August 08, 2006


With books (and other such relationships in my life), I am a serial monogamist. I'm loath to read more than one at a time, and rarely have; if I'm liking what I'm reading, I finish it. It's also rare for me to bail out on a book before I finish it, although it does happen, because some books just don't ring my bell at all. (I tried to get into One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich a little while back and quit about halfway through; short as it was, it was still like watching paint dry.) Someone was looking at my bookshelf recently and asked me if I'd read all of it, and my breakdown went about like this: 60% I've read the entirety of, 20% I've read enough of to get the gist, and 20% I've yet to dive into. I collect 'em faster than I can read 'em, but that probably makes me just like every other book lover out there.
I've always been fascinated by the relationships between artists, in particular; it's like watching rival gang leaders of equal power playing a cagey chess match. Friendships between creative/intellectual types tend to be short and intense, and Epstein gets into some interesting territory:
How many intellectual friendships dissolve over conflicts of opinion and ideas cannot be known, but the number is probably at least as great as those that fall apart through such normal perils as insults (intended or not) or wounds resulting from pride, ingratitude, feelings of abandonment, or misunderstanding. Nor are intellectuals immune from the riskiest of all maneuvers in a friendship: the effort to reshape the ideas and even the character of one’s friend in one’s own image.

...With intellectuals as with anybody else, jealousy is one of the ways that friendship can sadly resemble love. It is not uncommon for two close friends to resent a third person who may seem to be coming between them—or for that third party to resent a close friendship that appears to shut him out, and to seek means of retribution. The novelist Paul Theroux, for example, blamed the breakup of his friendship with V.S. Naipaul on the latter’s marriage to a woman regarded by Theroux as aggressive and interfering. Theroux’s Sir Vidia’s Shadow (1998) was the vengeful and vitriolic result—a risible and finally unsuccessful attempt to reduce Naipaul by mocking his pretensions and highlighting his cold-bloodedness.

Theroux may possibly fall into another category—that of the person who, having no real talent for friendship himself, looks to others as ostensible friends in order to be let down by them. “He was inordinately vain and and cantankerous,” wrote Max Beerbohm about the painter James Whistler. “Enemies, as he had wittily implied, were a necessity to his nature; and he seems to have valued friendship . . . as just the needful foundation for future enmity. Quarreling and picking quarrels, he went his way through life blithely."

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