Thursday, March 22, 2007


Books I've always meant to read

I'll admit it, there are authors whose books I've never read a word of, not a single word. Purportedly great authors. Faulkner. I have never read a single word written by Faulkner. There, I said it. I don't know if I'll ever read any Faulkner, but here's the short list of books I plan to read someday, books I've always meant to read: Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of Rome, Proust (ten years ago I read the first two books, then stalled out), A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (I have them all in paperback, and most of them in hardcover, too), The Divine Comedy, the letters of Horace Walpole (I've dipped in here and there, but I yearn to own the monumental Yale edition of his complete correspondence, it's nothing short of glorious if one has any feeling at all for the eighteenth century), my good friend Samuel Pepys (I made it over halfway through last winter, and again, stalled out), what else, what else. Classics - Plato! St. Augustine! More classics, of a different kind - Pamela, Thomas Carlyle, Ruskin, all of the Robert Louis Stevenson I haven't yet read, the complete Sherlock Holmes (I read some when I was a teenager, don't remember any of it, and have a fat copy in the shop at this very moment). What else, what else, my brain feels empty. What am I missing here, besides everything else in the history of literature?

I simply must share another little Morley bibelot this week, so here it is, today:

A tall thin book entitled Passivity Program, published by Ben Abramson at The Argus Book Shop, Inc., Chicago 1939. Again, this comes in a slipcase, which is not in great shape itself, but which has done its utilitarian job and protected the book very well, which is pristine. Remnants of a glassine jacket remain. The covers are decorative paper over boards, with a lovely suitcase-shaped paper label on the front cover. This copy is inscribed by Abramson after the introduction, and has two very nice bookplates from the former owners. The book contains the text of a lecture read at a college, then printed in The Saturday Review of Literature. A brief note at the beginning tells us that "The term Passivity is employed with some mischief as 'Activity Programs' have become a fetich among progressive educators." The typography, as is usual with these little publications, is quite fine; here is the title page:

This combines so many of my interests - Morley, books published by bookshops, limited editions, and fine typography. Basically, it's so good I can hardly stand it. Abramson says "I am publishing this booklet (a) because it is a fine piece of work, (b) because, although it will undoubtedly be included in a collected edition later, it deserves the dignity of a separate format, and, (c) because I like to publish books by Christopher Morley." (pp.5-6) He goes on to say of Morley, "One of the distinguishing marks of the creative maniac is the affection with which he nurses his disillusionment. His books might properly be lumped under the general heading of The Importance of Being Me." (p.10)

Morley's talk itself ranges all over the place, but one of his main points is that we should "be passive and listen," in other words, pay attention and we will be "astonished and thrilled and entertained" in whatever milieu we find ourselves in. (p.24) For example, "A person who lives all his life in a back yard and has spiritual dominion over that back yard may be a greater artist than a radio broadcaster who hustles all over the world. There are some big noises on the air that might broadcast 365 nights a year and still wouldn't know as much about what's really happening as Emily Dickinson learned in her garden at Amherst." (pp.16-17)

That's it for today. The only other item I can think of to add to my someday reading list is the 11th edition of the Britannica, but that's kind of crazy. Oh, what the heck. May as well be crazy.

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