The Race of the Book

IMG_6606In the early 1700s, Alexander Pope wrote “The Rape of the Lock.” This poem is a mock-heroic portrayal of an incident between a couple of aristocrats: Robert Petre, 7th Baron Petre, around twenty at the time, cut off a lock of hair belonging to Arabella Fermor. She was offended (and rightly so), the families quarreled, and an acquaintance prevailed upon Pope to write a poem that might patch things over. It didn’t, but it did achieve lasting fame for Arabella, as promised, and it is perhaps Pope’s most famous poem.

A few centuries later, an acquaintance of mine related an amusing incident. One night, he and his partner were both reading ebooks, when his partner discovered he was clicking through the pages faster. Both soon found themselves paying more attention the click of the page turn than anything else. For reasons their own, the muses suggested to me that this was an occasion worth noting in a parody of “The Rape of the Lock.” One does not disobey the muses, even when they suggest you write a parody of a parody, and thus I present “The Race of the Book, ” with apologies to Alexander Pope.

What dire offence from am’rous causes springs,
What mighty Contests rise from trivial things?
I sing this verse to muses of all words,
Collected, printed, read; and heartful girds.
Say what strange noises, Goddess! could compel,
A well-bred Lord to race a gentle Belle?
And lead that night to frantic lack of sleep?
And later tears of laughter cause to weep?

The couple went to bed that night to rest,
As couples do when months have passed the test.
It’s not that pleasures of the flesh are gone,
Indeed, these are enjoyed a lot, anon,
But on this night, for reasons not recalled,
For lord and lady only sleep was called.
It did not come to either as they lay,
And thus each chose a book for sleep delay.
Some of the pleasures of the marriage bed,
Are sleep and sex, and books that can be read;
This higher pleasure also can be shared,
In arts our bodies and our souls are bared,
And reading’s one way to ease in to sleep,
By closeness such as this their love did keep.

In these days books are not all paper bound,
For some in ebooks is the story found.
That fateful night, ’twas ebooks both did read,
These readers that did cause the dreadful deed,
Though both did read them, this was the first time,
The choice to read an ebook did align,
And so they settled on their separate sides,
To read respective tales of evil tides.
They clicked to choose the story and the page,
Oh horror! Soon the pleasure turned to rage.

Lord read the page, the button did he click,
To bring the next screen up so very quick,
Beside him, lady did the same and clicked,
The room was silent save the page next picked.
And click again, the lord progressed apace,
The lady cursed and entered in the race;
Belle clicked to turn the page and read it fast
Determined not to finish her page last
But lo, the effort was too slow, in vain,
The lord beat her to click next page again.
She aimed to scan the page in anxious haste
And click at once – there was not time to waste
But on and on he clicked with rapid speed
His insult brash, he seemed to lack all heed.
It was a contest she could never win,
Though both read fast, his pages were quite thin,
With fewer words and larger type displayed,
The contest was unfairly thus arrayed.
The lord did not intend to give offense,
He dumbly missed the clicks, he did not sense
The race, the heat, the humour growing fast
Until the moment she spoke up at last:

“See the poor remnants of my slighted rest
My hands and eyes consigned to second best
And in my reading fate I see my own
Much better would it be I read alone
Than suffer the cruel fate of being beat
In reading speed, which once I thought my treat.”

The lord explained at once his settings made,
The better he could read as eyes do fade,
And promised her his speed indeed was slow,
Though clicking fast, in text few words did go.
He also made words of apology,
For racing her, if inadvertently,
And promised in all things to show more care,
A frequent vow that lords must oft’ declare.

They carried on to read, with clicks explained,
Despite this, now to read for both was pained,
Such consciousness of every click they made,
Distracted lord and lady – plots mislaid
’til both gave up on reading for the night
And hoped the new day would bring light.
But sadly every further night was tense,
Avoiding ebook racing with pretense,
Technology had made this couple sad,
But it also in time restored the glad.

The readers wore out as devices do,
And were replaced by ebook readers new,
Among the changes made for greater ease,
Was something for our couple sure to please:
To turn the page now one does lightly swipe,
A movement of a much more peaceful type;
No more does clicking echo in the room,
And threaten this couple with marriage doom.
Each reads at speed and size that suits them well,
And what the other does they cannot tell.

There are some nights when all is done save sleep,
But Sandman, waiting long, must further keep
For lord, or lady, might just say “click, click,”
And giggles come on fast, an old love trick,
The stars above do smile on such games
And keep alive the dreams of human aims.