A bit of silliness for the unofficial end of summer from yours truly, LauraP
So, get me. I’m reading Henry James! Last weekend was Labor Day Weekend, the American holiday that signals the end of summer—but was I reading a romance or a thriller or some other summer brain candy-type book? No. I was making my way through the carefully constructed complex and compound sentences of James’ The Aspern Papers.
Being a regular reader of this blog, if I say at this point that I have a confession to make, you can probably guess what it is. I wasn’t actually reading The Aspern Papers. Jeremy Northam was doing the reading and I was just following along in my copy of the novella. Gill, the founder of the Jer Blog who kindly lets me contribute my thoughts here, had been waxing rhapsodic to me for a few weeks about Jeremy’s reading of Henry James’ work. Her recent post about it may have sent you dashing off to SilkSoundbooks for your own copy of Jeremy’s Aspern Papers.
But Labor Day, and its associations of beaches and cookouts and one last grasp at fun before we go back to the Everyday Grind, juxtaposed with reading one of the most challenging writers in the English language, got me thinking. How many intellectual pursuits have I undertaken because the name Jeremy Northam was attached to it in some way?
I remembered a thread at Jeremy Northam Chat a while back where we were discussing how his involvement in a project has led us to expand our knowledge of a related subject—the time period one of his movies was set in, a literary work he did an audio version of, an historical figure he played. As I started to make a list of them all, I noticed he’s been the motivation behind quite a few of my more “cerebral” activities in recent years. More than I realized.
Now, I’m a fairly intelligent, well-educated person. I read a great deal—and not just romances and thrillers! I do tackle intellectual projects of my own volition. For example, my interest in gardening with native plants has led me to read works on botany, entomology and ecology. I’ve amassed quite a lot of knowledge about the native plants of my region and the benefits of using those natives instead of exotic imported plants in gardens.
But that’s only one puny thing on my side of the scale; the other side of the scale is completely overbalanced by a heap of Jeremy-motivated items. And here I thought I was an intellectual. Turns out it was Jeremy all along. The guy’s a regular one-man Enlightenment! I’ve taken to calling him my “Intellectualizer.”
So, here are the mind-improving pursuits I’ve embarked on in the name of Northam:
Some are subjects I was already interested in, where Jeremy came along and spurred me to further reading. I was already a Jane Austenite when the movie Emma and his Mr. Knightley changed my life forever and I’d read Possession before his R.H. Ash swept me off my feet. I’d visited Brideshead Revisited and was already well versed in the Romantic poets when Jeremy’s superlative readings made me feel I’d only skimmed the surface of Waugh’s novel or Keats’ and Shelley’s poetic works.
Others are things only Jeremy could tempt me to try. I’d dismissed Graham Greene after agonizing over The Power and the Glory in high school, so only rave reviews of his audiobook by some of you got me to listen to Our Man in Havana. (What an absolute delight that is, too. Don’t miss it!) A similar traumatic experience with W. Somerset Maugham and Of Human Bondage didn’t stop me from seeking out The Moon and Sixpence at the mere mention of Jeremy’s name being attached to a film version of the novel. That project seems to have died and gone to Development Limbo, but I enjoyed reading the book and trying to decide which character he would have played.
With Jeremy’s charming help, I have gamely tackled writers with the reputation for being inaccessible. The aforementioned Mr. James’ Golden Bowl was easier to plow through with Prince Amerigo to lead the way, and a CD of breathtaking readings brought to life the unique rhythms and vocabulary of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry for me. There do seem to be limitations to Jeremy’s power, I’m sorry to say. After two tries I still haven’t been able to get through Tristram Shandy. I’m so ashamed. Can you forgive me, Jer?
Jeremy’s gifted portrayals of Sir Thomas More in The Tudors and Rev. John Innes in Creation sent me scurrying to the library for biographies of More and Charles Darwin to learn more about these fascinating men. By the way, I love the confession by Paul Bettany, who played Darwin in Creation, that he read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species mostly because he knew interviewers on the movie’s press tour would be sure to ask him if he had. Now there’s motivation for you!
And then there are the little bits of Jeremy-related information that cling to my brain as if superglued there. No, I don’t mean the man’s birthday or his shoe size; the former is common knowledge around here and the latter is largely irrelevant. I mean things like what Brugada Syndrome is. When a relative was diagnosed with Brugada this summer, I knew a bit about it because of the Golden Hour episode of Miami Medical. My father was all ready to tell me about this rare condition no one’s ever heard of. He was dumbfounded that I had heard of it. Thank you, Dr. Proctor.
And at a cookout this past weekend—I didn’t spend the whole time closeted away with Henry James—the subject of Scotland came up. One of my relatives was trying to describe the unique bunkers at St. Andrews golf course. I could help him out because I so adore Jeremy’s wicked Walter Hagen that I’ve seen (parts of) Bobby Jones: Strokes of Genius at least a dozen times. My family has decided that I know the weirdest collection of facts imaginable. I’m not about to tell them the common thread is a British actor born December 1, 1961.
In case you’re wondering, there IS one subject Jeremy won’t be motivating me to pursue. Math. I’m allergic to all higher forms of mathematics, a complete math idiot. You couldn’t get me to solve an algebraic equation for X if it were written on his bare chest. Well…maybe if he asked me nicely, I might give it a try. Wait a minute! What am I saying? If Jeremy Northam is standing in front of me shirtless, the very last thing I’m going to be thinking about is math!
After all, woman doesn’t live by intellect alone.