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All My Days Are Saturdays

Sam Pickering

Publication Year: 2014

A New York Times article once stated that “the art of the essay as delivered by [Sam] Pickering is the art of the front porch ramble.” As Pickering himself puts it, “Well, I have gotten considerably older, and humor has come to mean more and more to me. And if I’m on the front porch, I am in a rocking chair.” All My Days Are Saturdays offers fifteen new pieces in which he ponders a world that has changed and, in new ways, still delights him. This collection features Pickering writing about teaching and his recent retirement, visits to various locales, and, as he tell us, “the many people I meet…who tell me their stories, small tales that make one laugh and sigh.”

Distinctive and unmistakable, Pickering’s style deftly mixes the colloquial language of everyday life with references to a lifetime of extensive reading. The seamless blend of these two worlds in his writing is indicative of how they fuse together in his daily life. As Pickering puts it, “All my life I have roamed libraries, almost as much as I have roamed the natural world. I try to get at many truths, but when I tell the truth, I ‘tell it slant.’ I do so to describe life as it is and indeed celebrate that ‘as it is.’”

“Pickering is a master of his craft, one of the finest of personal essayists around, and these essays bear many of the characteristics of his other volumes—reflections on his everyday activities and on individuals around him, humorous exchanges with his wife, and so forth. But this volume seems to have something else as well. We find here a thoughtful meditation on time and self and relative old age demonstrating a close attention to the natural world—a tone not unlike Thoreau’s at times.” -- Fred C. Hobson, Professor of English, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author or editor of fourteen books, most recently A Southern Enigma: Essays on the U.S. South

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Other Works by the Author, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-16

“I do not suspect everyone who speaks a foreign language of being a thief,” V. S. Pritchett wrote in The Offensive Traveller, adding that on his journeys he didn’t see bacteria everywhere or scream when he could not get a good steak in Morocco or decent haggis in Naples. I do not say, he continued, “the country is wonderful, but you can have the people.” One...

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1. Wild

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pp. 17-24

“How full of enjoyment is the search after wild things,” Henry Van Dyke wrote in Fisherman’s Luck, “wild birds, wild flowers, wild honey, wild berries.” Life is repetitious. New roads quickly become old ruts. Spring follows spring, and the wild becomes leashed and familiar. Every June a kingbird nests on the island in the middle of the...

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2. A Little Forgetful

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pp. 25-34

“Henry, where are you headed so early?” John said, meeting his old friend Henry on the street one morning outside Read’s drugstore in Carthage. “I’ve just had a cup of coffee. Now I’m off to see Bill,” Henry replied. “I haven’t visited with him for a while, and I heard he was doing poorly.” “Doing poorly?” John said. “Why, Henry, you went to Bill’s...

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3. Proof

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pp. 35-44

After Don Quixote described the incomparable beauty of Dulcinea, the Duchess questioned her existence. If I mistake not, the Duchess said, “you never saw the Lady Dulcinea, and the lady is nothing in the world but an imaginary lady, one that you yourself begot and gave birth to in your brain, and adorned with whatever charms and perfections you...

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4. Chat

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pp. 45-60

“Men of wit,” Leigh Hunt wrote in the Indicator, “sometimes like to pamper a joke into exaggeration, into a certain corpulence of facetiousness.” The humor of older raconteurs is anecdotal and almost always flabby. A fatty jocular diet is healthy, bubbly with antacids and cellulite that jiggles and tickles. In contrast the bang and stab of muscular...

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5. Butterfly Dreams

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pp. 61-66

The Taoist Zhuang Zhou once dreamed he was a butterfly. On waking he found himself to be human and was mystified. He couldn’t decide if he were a butterfly or a man. He wondered if he had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly when he was asleep or, now that he appeared to be awake, if he wasn’t actually a butterfly dreaming he was a man. The story...

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6. All My Days Are Saturdays

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pp. 67-76

“When you get off a tractor, it doesn’t thank you for keeping it well oiled,” C.S. warned just before he left the university and moved to Florida. Two years ago Roger retired after teaching English for forty-six years. Although Roger had been a luminous presence, only gray silence greeted his retirement. Not a single university or department administrator sent...

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7. Unnecessaries

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pp. 77-86

“Oh, no, not so early,” Vicki said walking into the kitchen. “Don’t start the worry watch.” I have long worried excessively. But sitting at the table that morning and ruminating over a bale of granola topped with fields of berries—black, rasp, and straw—I thought my brow was smooth and that I looked at peace with the world. I had put the...

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8. False Stop

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pp. 87-98

One false start in a track meet and a runner is disqualified. False stops are different in the scribbling world. Writers can make innumerable false stops. A writer can snap all his pencils one afternoon, then the next morning get up early, walk to a stationer’s, buy a dozen ballpoint pens, and be back at his desk in time for a coffee break. I know. Two...

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9. Not My Will

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pp. 99-110

Life is disorderly. Some people attempt to control the worrisome by visiting nerve mechanics. Others doggedly determine to master chaos by abnegating responsibility for the disrupting, and usually sad, events of their lives. Last month I found a worn clipping amid the pages of an issue of the...

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10. Undead

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pp. 111-132

The Undead (Mortuus vivens) consists of several familiar families. Among them are ghosts; vampires; and Frankenstein’s grotesque descendants, as could be expected a goodly number of professional athletes and politicians among these but also including a surprising percentage of environmentalists committed to recycling. Populating another family...

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11. September 30

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pp. 133-140

I don’t remember much about my first birthdays. I have always been too busy and distractingly self-sufficient to experience great elation or disappointment. The only presents I recall are books: field guides to insects or snakes and then adventure stories. Armed with a bowl of chocolate ice cream and a slice of coconut or devil’s food cake, I explored...

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12. The Idles of May

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pp. 141-152

I gave my final final examination at eight o’clock on May 9. At four that afternoon I turned in my grades. A fortnight later I signed my retirement papers, the second time I signed such papers. The first occasion occurred last June, but because of a traffic jam in the state retirement office, I unretired and taught another year. I was in good...

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13. Variations on a Theme during Fall

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pp. 153-176

Brahms scored the orchestral version of his Variations on a Theme by Haydn for a dozen or so different instruments, among them, piccolo, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, timpani, triangle, and flute. In my variations during fall the only theme is the endless clicking of metronomic time. Throughout my years, however, measures have repeated themselves, not...

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pp. 177-189

“To sit still and contemplate,” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “to remember the faces of women without desire, to be pleased by the great deeds of men without envy, to be everything and everywhere in sympathy, and yet content to remain where and what you are—is not this to know both wisdom and virtue, and to dwell with happiness?” Stevenson...

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About the Author

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Samuel F. Pickering is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Connecticut. His unconventional teaching style was one of the inspirations for the character of Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society. Academically, Pickering specializes in the familiar essay, children’s literature, nature writers, and eighteenth and nineteenth century English literature. He has published many collections...

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273277
E-ISBN-10: 0826273270
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220288
Print-ISBN-10: 0826220282

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2014