George Dardess in Close Reading:
“I started writing this book while living in Antwerp,” Meis says, in the first sentence of the Preface. Fine. What I’d expect. Peter Paul Rubens lived and worked in Antwerp, so of course Meis would go there to research and write about his topic. All’s well. I get a cup of tea and start to get settled in.
But then, instead of continuing along the well-worn path of conscientious academic table-setting, Meis drops his diction and starts gabbing about being in Antwerp only to keep his wife company because she, at least, had a serious project (film) there. He, by contrast, was doing the dishes—though he was in possession of some grant money to “write on art and what-not”
OK, so lots of time and change on his hands, right? Gotta fill it up somehow, right? And so:
Suddenly, or so it seems to me now, I remembered that Antwerp was among other things Peter Paul Rubens’ town. This thought annoyed me, as I had no interest in Rubens. I didn’t even care about him enough to dislike him. My next thought was, “I’ll write a book about him.”
See what I mean? Surprise, also cheekiness, maybe even arrogance. Or maybe insanity? Maybe all of the above. But in any case, as a reader, I’m on my back foot. I can’t imagine how anything resembling a book on Rubens or whomever else could come out of such flaunted ignorance and brazenness.
And so of course I read on, out of curiosity, even eagerness to see this clown fall completely on his face—and right away it’s I who am falling, into to the heart of the matter.