Surveyors, Not Gentlemen: Curing the Cold with Comfort Books

How can you have a “meltdown” when it’s turning cold? It’s an oxymoron. Nonetheless, I had one.  I slept for a week–couldn’t keep my eyes open–and then suffered an outbreak of a respiratory virus, which lasted only a day.  Meanwhile, the house became shockingly drab and dusty.  And so I got up and scrubbed, polished, washed, decluttered, and realized we must stop reading, because we leave books everywhere.

That cannot be done, though.

As you can imagine, comfort reading helped me recover from the virus, i.e., common cold.  I have enjoyed rereading Pamela Dean’s  Tam Lin, a retelling of the Tam Lin ballad, set at a small college in Minnesota.

I always chortle over my favorite scenes.  The heroine, Janet, an English major, has been warned about the intimidating Professor Evans, but signs up for “Introduction to Literature”anyway.  On the first day he says the  class used to be called “Survey of English Literature,” and he mistrusts the name change.

“We shall be surveyors, not gentlemen.” He considered their faces one by one, until Janet could hardly bear to sit still.  “Not ladies and gentlemen,” he said, finally, and a little grimly.  The class was very quiet.  “Surveyors in the more technical sense,” said Evans.  “To survey may be to look out over a landscape from a height; or it may mean to tramp around in the mud with heavy, fragile, cantankerous instruments.  Some of my colleagues favor the view from a height; I myself feel that to consider the twentieth century a height of any sort, except that of folly, is in fact foolish.  So we will wander in the mud.  I think that when you come home again you’ll find that the mud has been on the slopes of the mountain.  Your instruments you’ll acquire on the way.”

By all means, let us be surveyors, not gentlemen!

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