Monday, July 14, 2014

Beasts and Poets

Look who's getting all grown up. Bär will be a year old this week—she's as strong as an ox and as curious as a kitten. Actually, if kittens can outdo Bär in curiosity I'd be very surprised. (I just caught her in my bedroom apparently inspecting the bottle of perfume on my dresser.) She continues to reduce chew-toys to mere shadows of their former selves, is ready to insist she's hungry at any hour of the day, and her bark practically rattles the windows.

I've spent a lot of mornings in Bär's company this month, it having been judged beneficial for her to spend as much time playing outdoors as possible. It's too hot to do all the running and racing she enjoys in the fall and winter—she loves the cold, but that thick fur coat of hers makes her much less tolerant of heat. And I'm not exactly keen on going running and leaping in hot, humid weather myself. So I sit on the swing in the backyard and keep an eye on her while she plays with a chew toy or two. Naturally, I use this time to do some reading; my Kindle is a welcome companion here. But I quickly discovered that it wasn't the time for getting absorbed in a new novel. I have to jump up every now and then to discourage the Bär from eating something that she shouldn't. And at any moment, an enormous wet and muddy rubber bone may be thrust into my lap (it's a good thing Kindle screens can be wiped off easier than book pages) as a demand to play tug-of-war.

The principle to be observed in that game, however, is that the dog is not supposed to win. Tug-of-war represents a challenge to authority, so either the human must win the game or the dog must release the toy on command (and then receives it as a reward for obedience). But a slippery rubber bone doesn't offer a grip good enough for the human—me, in this case—to win against the strength Bär can put into tugging, so I don't often agree to play that game now. Once I've removed the bone from my Kindle screen a few times, she, hopefully...eventually settles down to lay at my feet, or on my feet, and chew it while I read.

But as I was saying, this set-up isn't really conducive to in-depth reading. So I've been dabbling in poetry and short stories. I made use of the time to finally finish Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, which I'd been picking away at for a long time. The funny thing is, my Kindle edition didn't say which of the poems were Wordsworth's and which were Coleridge's, so I had to guess, and look them up afterwards. I tend to like Coleridge's style a hint better, I think; "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "The Nightingale" were my favorites.

After that, it occurred to me that I could get the short stories of Saki, which I'd sampled some years back (around the time I made my first unsuccessful attempt at reading Katherine Mansfield), for free on my Kindle; and I promptly did so. It seems appropriate that I started with Beasts and Super-Beasts. I have more mixed feelings about Saki. Some of his stories I love, others I just like, and still others I don't like at all. He's sometimes compared to O. Henry, which I understand and yet don't understand. Saki employs the twist ending, yes, but not always and without as great a punch. Furthermore, one is distinctly British and one distinctly American. I'm not sure I could put my finger on what makes the difference, but there it is: their characters, settings, vernacular, and atmosphere all have an intangible flavor of one or the other. The difference most obvious to me, though, is that Saki's wit has a much sharper, sarcastic edge, which occasionally runs into the downright macabre. I can read O. Henry indefinitely, but I prefer Saki in smaller doses. Of course, with Bär around, that's the way it often happens.


Anonymous said...

She's a beauty!

Yvette said...

She is gorgeous! Of course she was investigating your perfume - probably thinking to dab some behind her own fabulous ears. :)

Hannah Scheele said...

I feel for her when her coat gets hot. I've always wondered how furry animals managed in hot climates.