A book is far more than scraps of paper and drops of ink, sandwiched between a practical cover. It is far more accurate to describe a book as a castle. The high walls protect and keep the tender inhabitants. These walls protect not only a people, but a way of life. To open a book is to venture within the walls of the cover, and to examine, explore, and revel in what life the villages live inside these walls. To read a book is to open your being to the author. You share secrets, exchanging notes on the journey of life. To read a book is to test the mind, soul, and heart of the author. To read a book is also to pay these ideas your time, concentration, and will. When we crack open a book, we sign a contract with the author, trading our currency of will for the right to explore their mind, soul, and heart.
I made such a contract, in the wild expanse of a used book store. I offered my money, concentration, and will to “The Merry Muses of Caledonia.” I now must mourn in silence what could have been, as I try in vain to remove the knife, plunged into my back by the part author and compiler, the late Scottish poet Robbie Burns. Misery is measured not by exact location, but rather distance traveled. The descent from bad to worse is far easier than the plunge from blissful to torturous.
Reader, I did not in any way judge this book by its cover. The cover was a dull, simple cream, unbroken by any text, picture, or even symbol. The only island on this sea of hardback uncertainty was a tattered sticker, desperately clinging on to the binding with what little glue he had left. This simple scrap bore the title which was to cause me so much horror and misery “The Merry Muses of Caledonia.” This book boasted of poetry, what is more, Traditional Scottish poetry! I have a weakness for the colloquial, and I have a weakness for ballad form poetry, these two flaws were to be my heel, by which the Parisian arrows of disappointment and horror could enter and spread the deadly poison of Burns.
I hesitated little. I snatched the volume from its poetry laden shelf, and carried this horse of the Trojans to the cash register. If only the book had been grossly and mistakenly under-priced and was in fact far above my price range! If only the owner of the store had deemed it mistakenly marked for sale, and removed it from my foolish hands! If only my wallet had turned up inadequate!
It does no good to long for what may have been. We can only examine our mistakes and prepare ourselves to overcome the monsters of the future.
Exiting the store, I felt the thrill of the victorious hunter. Indeed, I truly believed I had felled a prize beast. There is a keen pleasure in skimming over, playfully running through, and dancing with a newly purchased book. It was at this moment, as I began to wade into this pool of Scottish poetry, the traitorous Robbie Burns revealed his vile intentions. The Siren’s call of Caledonian muses lead me to nothing but vile, shameless, and bawdy filth. I desired the passion of Scotland, I longed to read of the courage, honor, and emotion of Caledonia. What I received was vulgar, hyper sexualized, misogynistic, disrespectful, ungodly rubbish. The glass ball of my hopes shattered irrevocably on the harsh ground of reality.
I know it is a dangerous thing to have grudges, and it is a fruitless endeavor to have a grudge against the dead, but I am mad, Robert. You violated the compact of the reader. I entered your castle walls and found your muses sorely lacking. You spurned the gift of my concentration. You spurned the gift of my will. All you took, from my noble offering, was the money I paid for your prattle. Thanks to you, my wallet is now 2 dollars short. I will run away, and receive my Scottish poetry from others. I will survive this grievous wound. I will heal, and maybe recover. But I will never forget the pains of betrayal.