Saturday, March 10, 2007


Books as comfort food

Here's another book from home from my shelf of special books about books (I can't bring myself to call them babs as some dealers do, it seems too cavalier). The gilt lettering is a bit dulled on the front cover - it reads Comfort Found in Good Old Books, George Hamlin Fitch:

Dark orange cloth, just under seven inches high, many very bookish tipped-in plates. Published by Barse & Hopkins, New York 1911. The author was a journalist and wrote for the Sunday book-page of the San Francisco Chronicle, and this book is in fact a collection of his columns on bookish topics and authors. They were written for comfort following the death of his beloved only son, and not only that, but the long introduction about his son's life ends with a sad note telling of yet another loss: "This personal heart-to-heart talk with you, my patient readers of many years, is the first in which I have indulged since the great fire swept away all my precious books - the hoarded treasures of forty years." (p.xx) God.

My favorite essay in the book is a short general one about reading and self-education called "The Best Out of Books." It ends with this:

"With all the equipment that has been devised in the way of notes and comment by the best editors, the text of the great books of the world should offer no difficulties to one who understands English and who has an ordinary vocabulary. The very fact that some of these old writers have novel points of view should be a stimulus to the reader; for in this age of the limited railroad train, the telephone, the automobile and the aeroplane, it is well occasionally to be reminded that Shakespeare and the writers of the Bible knew as much about human nature as we know today, and that their philososphy was far saner and simpler than ours, and far better to use as a basis in making life worth living." (p.99)

Great essays on Dante, Jonathan Swift, Milton, the Pilgrim's Progress, the Arabian Nights, Dr. Johnson and Boswell, Don Quixote, etc. The author has the general tone of an enthusiastic humanist, and his comments on turning to great books despite the distractions of the modern world still read as relevant today. Even more relevant, if anything.

Meanwhile, back at the shop - the wickedly cold weather has finally broken and I feel like I can stop applying (organic) hand lotion and eating (organic) chapstick every few minutes because there's some humidity in the air again, even some warmth. Is it spring? Not yet, but it's on its way - no fooling, this time.

Hi Sarah,
I'm sending you a letter but mom has been here the last few days. What can I say?
They came; I saw; I read! Thanks (for C. Everitt especially)
Oh, good - why don't people understand that all we want to do is READ, I'll never know. Human contact, really, how necessary is it?

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