Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Still digging out from under, but I do see daylight

This morning I finished excavating and shelving the library sale books from the weekend, and a few more treasures came to light. First, while dealing with the To-Be-Examined-Later pile (otherwise known as Keep-Or-Sell), I finally looked at the nice hardcover of Maxine Kumin's Selected Poems (first edition, Norton 1997), and discovered her inscription and signature on the title page. Next, I completely forgot that I'd found a monster Stanford University Press softcover of Montaigne's Complete Essays (been looking for a decent reading copy all spring). It was on the bottom of the pile(s). It weighs in at almost three pounds, is nearly nine hundred pages with index, is printed on good, bright paper, and has a clear and pleasing typeface (looks like Garamond). I dipped a toe into an abridged version of the Essays in a graduate seminar over ten years ago now, and lately I've been feeling that it's time to sidle up to the whole ocean. Or something like that. Metaphors are not my strong suit. But I digress. Finally, I unearthed a hardcover reprint of W. Carew Hazlitt's Hand-Book to the Popular, Poetical, and Dramatic Literature of Great Britain, from the Invention of Printing to the Restoration (Burt Franklin 1961, originally published in 1867). I have several of Hazlitt's other books-about-books, so, another good find for the reference shelf.

Re Montaigne, and also Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (which I ended up finishing this morning, and I think I love the last part the best, about her active cultivation of joy), and so many other books I've read lately - they are all purposely written in small segments. Smaller than regular chapters, that is. And I realize that I really do love to read books written in these small segments: they can be digested bit by bit, but they do still form a cohesive whole. I like to write in small segments, too (journal entries, poems, blog posts). I've been slowly reading La Bruyère's Characters for months now, and his pieces are like mini-essays. I've come to think that works written in this form are so pleasing to me because they provide a kind of day-to-day-ness and comfort, rather like homilies, no matter how sacred or profane the topic. This form of writing is human-size. So, I will view the Montaigne not as a blockish doorstop of a book, but rather as a series of small glowing pearls on a string, a very, very long string. (There's that metaphor problem again.) Pearls aside, when I flipped through the Essays at random, it naturally fell open at page 296, Of books. I feel right at home.

I too like my books split up into digestible gobbets. I live not far from the tower in which Montaigne wrote those essays, propped up in bed over many long nights of gall bladder pain according to the guide.
Oooh, what a great place to live... I have a friend who's on a painting retreat in rural France right now, I think she's near you, I'll have to ask when she comes back to Maine. I've only ever seen Montaigne's tower courtesy of Kenneth Clarke, in his old "Civilization" series. Which still holds up, for the most part.
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