There’s more than one way to get a sore throat. Not realizing what he was getting into, Peter Jickling, Whitehorse based poet and playwright, texted a picture of the book he was reading to his friend Fiona Solon. The Plague by Albert Camus had sat uncracked on his bookshelf for four or five years, and with everything in the news, Jickling figured it was time to give it a go.
Jickling has a background in philosophy and had encountered some of Camus’ writings at university. Although perhaps Camus himself didn’t like this characterization, he’s generally understood as one of the pillars of existentialism. He believed that while life is essentially meaningless, one is still left with the challenge of living it. He championed meeting it bravely head-on rather than turning aside and capitulating. Camus played an active part in the French Resistance during the Second World War.
Solon texted Jickling back, saying she and her partner Daniel Little thought he should read the whole book aloud, live streaming it on Facebook. Yeah right, thought Jickling. But the idea kept needling him. Soon he realized that if he didn’t do it, in the long run, he would regret having let the opportunity go by. Even if it was a boring, silly, absurd thing to do. So he went ahead and did it. He got going at 4 p.m. on April 2.
You can still view it under Jickling’s videos on his Facebook page. Unless you have a keen appetite for absurdity, start with the one that’s eight hours long. The one to the right of that is just Jickling sorting out technical details. Facebook’s live streaming service has a maximum duration of eight hours. Jickling had to wrap up and restart another live stream to get to the end of the book. It took a bit longer than fourteen hours, all told. He read straight through, with five minute bathroom breaks. He finished at 6:30 the next morning. Jickling likened the experience to running a marathon. At the beginning he had a lot more energy and verve. It felt good. As you do in a marathon, sooner or later, you get feeling tired, and wonder why you decided to do this stupid thing in the first place.
Jickling admits to sipping beer the whole time too. He figures he got silly and delirious in the middle. “I had to batten down the hatches for the final push.”
It was the first time Jickling had read a book aloud cover to cover. He reflected that he got a different sense of the book as a whole than you would putting it down and picking it up, as we usually do. “You certainly get a sense of how long a book is,” he said, while noting that at around 240 pages, The Plague is not a particularly long book.
Most people who listened tuned in and tuned out. He guessed that his long-time friend Casey Lee was his most faithful listener, though he didn’t have stats. At the end, despite a feeling of accomplishment, he didn’t feel that great. His throat was hurting. He had stayed up all night. But “the endurance of the thing was part of the point of it.”
“I feel like my presentation of the material echoed the themes of the book,” he said. It was absurd, silly, kind of crazy. But it was an absurd act carried out unapologetically in the face of the corona virus situation.
This is an existential time. We are trying as a country, as humans in general, to deal with the unknown. “I think this is the first time in my life that as an entire species we don’t know what’s going to happen next,” he said.
Jickling in no way means to make light of the situation, but in the face of all the plans that have been cancelled he found it satisfying to make any kind of plan and fulfill it. “I have so many plans that don’t come to fruition,” he notes.
Jickling has considered reading another book. He figures if he does it again, he will choose a shorter text. Stay tuned. For himself, he hasn’t been writing that much. But he finds he’s worried about not writing, which he identifies as sometimes the first step in the process.
You can buy Jickling’s book of poetry, Downtown Flirt, from a variety of online bookstores and at Mac’s Fireweed Books.