The Philosophy Club

St Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio

When I was attending high school at St Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, between 1958 and 1962, I started two extracurricular activities. One was a literary magazine called The Phoenix (our school teams were the Firebirds). I am actually a little embarrassed about the quality of our articles and illustrations. But more interestingly, I started a philosophy club which met evenings. Our moderator was a gaunt Marist missionary priest who had spent years attempting to convert the natives of New Guinea to Catholicism.

Imagine his discomfiture when a bunch of high school kids decided to argue about the existence of God. We had a couple of firebrands in the group—Ed Jaskiewicz and Rodger Harper—who set about demolishing two millennia of church dogma.

The “Angelic Doctor,” St Thomas Aquinas

As a good practicing Catholic (at the time), I introduced St. Thomas Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God. That didn’t sit too well with Jaskiewicz, who shot them down while Father Barrett, our moderator, turned a vivid shade of fuchsia. For my part, I started to stammer. It just wouldn’t do for Chanel’s star student to foment heresy.

Well, neither the philosophy club nor the literary magazine exist today. In fact, St. Peter Chanel High School is no more. The last I heard, the school was going to be torn down by he Bedford, Ohio, Board of Education. And I’m still a little skittish about philosophy. It’s not because I still believe in Aquinas’s five proofs, which are the bedrock of Catholic doctrine, but because I’ve always found philosophy so difficult. In no other field of endeavor do all the participants so anathemize one another.

I am currently reading Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus and actually liking his existential philosophy. It’s nice sometimes to undergo change after so many years.

 

Sherlock Holmes et al

A Book That Introduced Me to Some Great Writers

Sherlock Holmes was never the only game in town. Granted, he was easily the best of the Victorian and Edwardian detectives; but there were a number of others worth reading. When I came upon the above book years ago, I was introduced to a whole constellation of British crime-fighters. The book was edited by Sir Hugh Greene (1910-1987), brother of novelist Graham Greene and director-general of the BBC during the 1960s. In all, he produced four books honoring lesser-known British and American detectives:

  • The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
  • Cosmopolitan Crimes: Foreign Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971)
  • The Further Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1973)
  • The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1979)

The original volume was by far the best of the series. The only author I followed from the three later volumes was Jacques Futrelle, creator of the Thinking Machine detective stories, who drowned in the Titanic disaster of 1912.

For a number of years, I sought collections of several authors recommended in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. The ones who interested me the most were:

  • Arthur Morrison, who, in addition to his Martin Hewitt stories wrote the very Dickensian The Hole in the Wall and the excellent Dorrington Deed Box
  • Clifford Ashdown, author of the Romney Pringle stories
  • Baroness Orczy, the Hungarian woman author who gave us The Scarlet Pimpernel also wrote a series about a lady journalist in London named Polly Burton (The Old Man in the Corner stories)
  • R. Austin Freeman’s Edwardian Doctor Thorndyke forensic investigation stories appeared in several volumes
  • William Hope Hodgson wrote a series of stories about a ghost investigator named Carnacki
  • Ernest Bramah, a tea merchant, gave us a blind detective named Max Carrados, who was actually able to read newspapers by feeling the ink on the newsprint

My favorites from the above list are Bramah and Morrison, with Orczy and Freeman not far behind. Unfortunately, most of their books are devilishly hard to find.

 

“Don’t Read Books!”

Chinese Scroll

Chinese Scroll

Don’t read books!
Don’t chant poems!
When you read books your eyeballs wither away,
leaving the bare sockets.
When you chant poems your heart leaks out slowly
with each word.
People say reading books is enjoyable.
People say chanting poems is fun.
But if your lips constantly make a sound
like an insect chirping in autumn,
you will only turn into a haggard old man.
And even if you don’t turn into a haggard old man,
it’s annoying for others to have to hear you.

It’s so much better
to close your eyes, sit in your study,
lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
burn incense.
It’s beautiful to listen to the wind,
listen to the rain,
take a walk when you feel energetic,
and when you’re tired go to sleep.

—Yang Wan-li (1127-1206), “Don’t Read Books!”

I Am a Jonah

No, It’s Not Me ... But It Could Be!

No, It’s Not Me … But It Could Be!

I usually take lunch by myself at 11:45 am, just before the rush begins. I like to find myself virtually alone in a restaurant, deeply buried in my copy of The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books, with a glass of plain, unsweetened iced tea in front of me. Sometimes, I think that I am something of a Jonah to the dining establishments I frequent: Not for me the gay, bubbling crowds. I like it quiet so that I can read. What restaurant can long survive an influx of diners such as me?

Today, I read reviews of books about Hugh Trevor-Roper and Simon Leys, wondering to myself whether I could craft a blog out of these articles. Not without difficulty, because I have read nothing by the former and only one novel by the latter. I thought instead I would write about my lone wolf lunches during the work week. They give me a chance to catch up on the two magazines that mean the most to me, and they preserve my freedom of choice to eat at a place which would not send my glucose reading soaring skyward. ( Anyway the rest of the staff usually takes lunch about an hour after I do.)

Because I am a sort of back-room character at the accounting firm where I work, I rarely have “business lunches,” which is fine with me. I don’t like having to explain a diabetic meal regimen to strangers if I can help it.

Diabetes really doesn’t have much to do with it. Even forty years ago, I liked to lunch alone. It was around then that I discovered The New York Review of Books, which was on sale at the drugstore next to Marshall’s Coffee Shop at the corner of Olympic and Barrington. That building has since collapsed in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. It was mostly a medical building. I remember reading in the L.A. Times that the doctors were unable to evacuate their medical records because the building was likely to pancake without notice. I wonder what happened to those records….

When it comes time for me to retire, I will probably eat almost all of my lunches with Martine, as I do now with my suppers. That would be fine with me: The quiet reading time won’t be necessary for me then as it is now in the crazed atmosphere of a Westwood accounting firm.