The first week of this month saw yours truly again back on reservist training. As with the last time, it was a productive time for reading – I finished a couple of below-par Nero Wolfe mysteries* (namely If Death Ever Slept and Death of a Dude) and Kathy Reichs’s Death Du Jour**. (Yes yes, I know that’s a fairly morbid trio of titles.)
I wouldn’t have thought it mattered, but somehow not travelling to work made travel less of a routine, and I began to notice things, and observe, and ponder. Like, how PSPs have joined MP3 players and multifunctional phones to make our society more crowded and un-connected. Like, how a woman wearing black wraparound shades sat back, face-up, smiling, in one of the middle seats in a row full of sleeping, rocking zombies, letting the early morning sun play its light on her cheek and nose and cheek. Like, how an old man, standing half a car away, peered outside with an expression of bland appreciation so intense that I looked in the direction he peered, and there were trees, grown taller and leafier since I last saw them. Like, how our friendship would have changed when my friends come back from their brave journey toward PhD-dom in Arizona and Colorado. Like, how beneficient one must be to arrange for the wisecracking, foul-mouthed sergeant major taking care of us this reservist to have one of the friends’ name and small, wiry build. And like, how, at the range, with ear-buds on, the air tinged with the scent of superheated oil from earlier shots, my fist intently pounding at the sandbag so as to nestle my rifle in the resulting depression and tuck it firmly against my shoulder, I begin to hear my own breath pulsing in, pulsing out, and the world begins to confine itself to that moment, and the next, and the next, until the order is given – “Watch your front!” – and the safety is clicked off, and my cheek lines itself along the gun and my eyes narrow and squint and the target appears and my finger pulls the trigger and the moment extends like silk from a spider, until the silk snaps in the wind and the target swings down, and the next appears.
*I’m a huge fan of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. For a long period, I would re-read his books before sleeping – the world of 1950s New York, Wolfe’s brownstone house, his idiosyncracies and his wisecracking sidekick Archie Goodwin (who’s a protagonist in these stories in the most un-Watson way) form a restful comfort zone. These two books were disappointing in that the murderer could have been any of the suspects in either book, and essentially both Wolfe and Archie spend most of the book not solving the murder, but the pleasure of spending time with the two characters was worth the reading time, at least.
**My colleague and I had gone to New Zealand on work with another colleague last year, and we had discovered that we shared a liking for reading during the trip. After we returned, we exchanged books: I passed her Poppy Z Brite‘s Liquor [click through to read Chapter 1, in pdf form], and she passed me the abovementioned Death Du Jour, and after nearly a year, I finally got to finishing it. I really didn’t like it very much – I didn’t care for any of the characters – but the author’s web site is so good-naturedly friendly that I think I will give her another try.