On College Sweethearts and Moby Dick

It’s Tuesday, and the week has gotten off to a rip-roaring start.

Some of you immediately wrote to asksean@paradigm.press for a copy of my reading list, but I didn’t check the mailbag until Monday morning.

As you know, I’m teaching banking graduates for the next three months during the day, so I have to prepare pretty hard.  (Especially when I’m teaching The Bank.  Yes, that one.)

When I checked the mailbag this morning during my break, I was thrilled to see how many bibliophiles wrote in.  I have sent the list to everyone who’s written in, so please check your email if you didn’t get it.

It’s an open invitation, by the way, so feel free to write in if you still want a copy.

I was going to write about Cuba and the uprisings today, but that will have to wait another day.

You’ve lit me up, with sugar plum book fairies dancing in my head.

My Relationship With Books

I’m not a Montessori kid, and my mother’s favorite author, while I was growing up, was Danielle Steel.  Piles of those books were in my parents’ bedroom.

I wasn’t a natural reader, though my mother always read me a story and I had a small library of Disney books in my bedroom.

As a December baby, I had to take a test to get into school early.  From an athletic standpoint, this was a ridiculous error, as I was only an underdeveloped 14-year-old when I started playing varsity football.  (Loads of study confirm children born in the early months of the year – or late-year babies held back – do far better athletically because of their size advantage.)

My mother surely just sat up and said, “But you lettered in football, wrestling, and track, so shut up!”

Yeah, yeah ma…

Anyway, I scored highly enough to get into “High Achievers,” which were the supposed gifted and talented kids.  You got to read The Great Books.

I didn’t give a damn about Great Books, and that’s a damn shame.  Today, Mortimer J. Adler is a hero of mine and I wish I knew what I had in my hands back then.  But no one said, “If you wield this, success will come.”

I’m big on practical learning because I like constructing things and I’m lazy.

Reading can be hard.  And I’d rather take the easy path.

My high school sweetheart was a reader.  But after I found myself bawling on a toilet bowl while reading Love Story, I thought she was a right cow for making me read it.

Crying.  Because of a book!  WTF was that all about?

Pass.

Enter the College Sweetheart

My God, she was gorgeous.

A mocha-skinned Italian beauty who initially started as a child psychology major, she switched to literature halfway through her college years.

Long, thick jet black hair, perfect white teeth… well, she’s married now so I won’t describe the rest of her.

Alas, “Madonna Mia!” must suffice.

She studied in Florence for a semester.  When I went to meet her in the autumn of 1997, it was my first time on an airplane.  I was 22 years old.

“I’ll meet you in Rome,” was the last thing I said to her on the phone when I was at my desk at Lehman Brothers.  My manager, Tim, looked up and asked rhetorically, “Is that the coolest thing you’ve ever said?”

At the time, it certainly was.

Boy, that jetlag hurt, though.  I was a zombie by the time I landed in Rome, after a brief stop at London Heathrow.  (I had no idea at the time how big a prelude that moment was.)

We met in Rome airport and took the train to Florence.  I barely remember the trip, I was so out of it.

We got to our hotel and I passed out.  After waking up at about 10pm, I asked her if we could get something to eat.

Dark now, we walked outside.  And then… Il Duomo.  Brunelleschi’s dome right in front of me.  Brightly lit, it’s a white church with a red dome and green trim.  It’s the happiest cathedral I’ve ever seen.

Florence did the Renaissance like no other.  That Gothic stuff was for miserable Northern Europeans.

“We don’t have this stuff in Jersey…” I mouthed as I walked past it.

I was done.  My little hamster was flying on the wheel.  The machinations began.  I was somehow, some way moving to Europe.

We dated for four-and-half years, but about three-and-a-half years in, things started to deteriorate.

The Book Club

I tried to figure out how to fix things.  Since she was a literature major, I thought subscribing to the Easton Press’s One Hundred Greatest Books of All Time was a good move.

And then, Moby Dick.

I struggled my way through it.  I think everyone should once in their lives.  I’ll read it again someday.

Later, I saw Star Trek: First Contact and flipped out at how Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard dumbed down Melville’s passage in Chapter 41 about the whale.

The original:

He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

Gorgeous.  One of the most beautifully written and enduring passages in all of literature.

And they ruined it.

You can watch Sir Patrick butcher it here: https://youtu.be/Hdp-yKvTT-I?t=220

I was infuriated.

It was the first time I felt like I was lied to while watching a movie.

But those books have followed me around the world.  I’ve brought them to London, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Cebu.  I simply can’t be parted from them.

But the real gift is that reading finance isn’t such a big chore, either.

One of the best bits of advice I give the graduates I teach is to read all about financial and economic history.  And I give them my list, too.

But my list isn’t important.  It’s the intaking and assimilation of information.  And then the brain starts putting things together.  Recognizing patterns.  Actually making you smarter.

And boy, does that help in business and social settings.

When I finally moved to London, I noticed that almost everyone on the train had a book in his pocket or in his hand.

Not a newspaper.  And not just headphones blasting music.

People were reading.  Men’s coat pockets were blown out and hanging from carrying copies of The Brothers Karamazov.

London’s tailors may uniformly recoil in horror, but its booksellers love to see it.

Now it’s time for me to make more time for reading.  Thank you for your inspiration.

Until tomorrow…

All the very best,

Sean

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