Daily Office: Wednesday


¶ Matins: If it’s as nice a day as predicted, I might just walk up Second Avenue to Dmitri’s.

¶ Prime: A look at this week’s Book Review, at Portico.

¶ Tierce: Maureen Dowd says that Americans don’t like elitists. I’ll tell you who dislikes elitists: journalists, among other entertainers.

¶ Sext: JR writes, with an anticipation of nostalgia for bygone days that are not, in fact, quite bygone yet, about the significance of hard copy: don’t bury the CD!


§ Matins. Dmitri’s used to be on 86th Street but that long ago moved up toward 105th Street. It’s an easy walk up there, because it’s downhill. You can take a taxi up there, but forget about hailing one for the trip home.

§ Prime. Reviewing the Book Review has become the most monastic thing that I do: I’m sure that nobody ever reads it. For one thing, who’d want to? There are other people who write about the Book Review, but their accent, naturally enough, is on the books. They only discuss the reviews if they disagree with them, or if they’re wowed by something unusually favorable. If you look at the reviews as I do — as more or less (usually less) adequate presentations of books on offer — the exercise soon becomes dispiriting. But much as I’d like to give it up, I find that I can’t, because it feels like a job that ought to be done. Even if nobody reads it.  

§ Tierce. The kerfuffle about Barack Obama’s deployment of “bitter” went pretty much unnoticed in the blue room until this morning, when everything that I like and dislike about Maureen Dowd’s smart-ass populism came into laser-like focus on a matter that has bothered me for many years, the so-called “elitist” problem. Why is it bad to be an elitist? More curious still, why will no one admit to being a member of the elite? This morning, I saw with jaw-dropping clarity that elitism has been a target of the mandarins of popular entertainment since the Depression at least.

It’s one thing — a good thing — to question what we call “the establishment.” It’s quite another to savage anyone who lacks “the common touch.” When I read, again in Ms Dowd’s column, about Hillary Clinton downing a shot of Crown Royal in a working-class bar, I thought I’d been taken to the nethermost infernal circle of American narcissism.

§ Sext. I do wonder if the pleasure of owning books and records — I’ll say “CD” if I’m speaking of music only, but “books and records” remains my habit of thought — stems, like so many pleasures, from resistance and difficulty. Information — the contents of books and records — was hard to come by when I was growing up. It was certainly expensive, at least from an impecunious adolescent’s point of view. The only way to gain easy access was to become a professional: a scholar or a musician. But I have always been a resolute amateur.