June 16, 2021

Reading Uncertainly? One Old Man Reads Another — Kloman Reviews Angell’s Latest

What can I say? One old man reading another!

Roger Angell, the prolific editor and author from the pages of The New Yorker, begins by calling his latest book “a dog’s breakfast, because that’s what this book is. A mélange, a grab bag, a plate of hors d’oeuvres, a teenager’s closet, a bit of everything. A dog’s breakfast.”

Letters, essays from the magazine, the odd haiku, baseball memories – Angell paints an engaging “portrait of my brain at ninety-four.” And, best of all, he repeats a few of the immortal rhymed Christmas couplets started by Frank Sullivan in 1932 and that he continued from 1976 to 2012.

These annual odes to the known and the unknown inspired me to try my hand at a “Greetings, Friends” in 1954 for the Daily Princetonian and again in 1956 for my shipmates on the U.S.S. Zelima, a Navy refrigerator ship moored in Yokosuka, Japan, for the holidays. They were my last Christmas chanteys, deferring to far better poets.

And Angell gives us the perfect conclusion: his report on the fan-less Oriole-White Sox baseball game in Baltimore in April 2015: two teams playing at the soundless Camden Yards in the aftermath of that city’s disruptions.

Memorable names appear on almost every page: his step-father, E. B. (Andy) White, Harold Ross, John Updike, John McPhee, Saul Steinberg, Fiorello La Guardia, James Thurber, Chas. Addams, William Steig, Peter Arno, John Hersey, Vladimir Nabokov, all of whose stories, ideas, and cartoons remain engraved in our memories (at least if you are old enough!)

On aging: To his son on his birthday – “One always tries to weigh the meaning of these ten-year chunks, and the only answer is mortality.” Or: “the rule about age is never to think about it.”

On writing:  “Writing is a two-way process and the hard part isn’t just getting in touch with oneself but keeping in touch with that reader out there, whoever he or she is, on whom all this thought and art and maybe genius will devolve.”

On glee:  “ . . . us people over seventy-five keep surprising ourselves with happiness.”

On reference books: Angell still uses the Eleventh edition (1911) of the Encyclopedia Britannica, while I, some 12 years his junior, refer almost monthly to the Thirteenth.

Why is it that we derive so much pleasure from something written by an author near our own age? I do recall from a few years ago the advice to read a book when you are the same age as when the author wrote it. In this case, sound counsel!

This Old Man is a proper memory stimulant, just when I need it! I’m 88 … on to 94!

Editor’s Note: ‘This Old Man’ by Roger Angell is published by Doubleday, New York 2015.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, Conn., he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction, a subject which explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.
His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

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