Sometimes the books we read transcend their mere bookishness in the world and become something akin to life milestones, mementos of a particular point in our lives. Under the Net is a fantastic book on its own, made all the more fantastic for me because I bought it at the now-defunct “What The Book?” in Seoul and read the bulk of it in Gimpo airport, hoping against hope that a seat would open up after I missed my initial flight to Jeju. (One did. I had a great time.) Naturally that specific copy that I own, with the handwritten note to the previous owner and a What The Book? receipt still in it, immediately transports me to South Korea in July 2012. But any discussion of that book in general, or Iris Murdoch generally, will also bring along memories of that time of my life.
Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow and Jerome K. Jerome is similarly of a specific time for me, though in a grimmer way. An acquaintance recommended it (another left field book) sometime in 2019 and close on to winter I was reading a free ebook version from Project Gutenberg on the subway to work. I remember closing the ereader app and pocketing my phone as I came up the stairs of Hötorget, dawn only just getting started, everything still half-dark. I remember pulling my phone out on my way home in the evening and dashing off a quick message to them to say, Thanks for the rec, this is hilarious! before opening the ereader app back up for the return trip.
And then I didn’t have many commutes for a long time after that, for some reason!
I also forgot about Idle Thoughts for a long while, though whether that’s because of Covid or because of my own distractability is hard to say. Here I am, three years later, and I finally finished it, and now the book has become emblematic of my journey through coronatider.
Well, that’s a bit melodramatic. I have a good memory for a lot of things, but I would be hard pressed to summarize the entire collection and tell you which essays I finished before Covid, which during, and which after (if you want to say that there’s an after, which is debatable). Another book that needs no review, no introduction, no hype; Jerome has earned his place in English literary history. But for all of that historicity, reading Idle Thoughts today feels surprisingly fresh and relevant. Plus ça change.