Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Books: How do I love thee?

Let me count the ways. This Johnson-Boswell self-imposed reading program of mine is well underway and I want to take a brief moment to mention the tactile qualities of the experience. I began with an old Oxford edition of both of their accounts of their Hebrides journey. In the second half of this particular volume, the pages were uncut. I had to take the sharpest letter opener I possess and carefully slice them open before I could read what lay within. Delicate surgery, lovingly performed. I continued with Boswell's Life of Johnson, and since I do have three different editions on hand to choose from (ahem...), I looked them over to decide which to read. I ended up choosing the smallest, almost a pocket edition, if such a long book could ever be such a thing - Oxford 1904, with paper so thin it is almost onion skin, two volumes printed in one, bound in dark blue oxford cloth. The thin paper means I read and read and read and put the bookmark back in and it looks as if I've made no headway whatsoever. But - the main reason I chose this edition - after two hours or more of reading my hands and arms are not cramped up from grasping a larger and much heavier edition (such as the fat hardcover Everyman). Also, the typeface and font size is pleasant and clear. And the headers on each page note the date (the book unfolds chronologically, year by year) and the page's main topic. These topics are often delightful: Remedies for Melancholy; Johnson's Defense of Tea; Boswell Talks Stuff; The Lawfulness of Dueling; Goldsmith in Witty Contests; Virtue and Vice Mingled; Books in a Lady's Closet; Effects of Wine on Conversation; etc. They read through like an eccentric flip-book.

Progress report: I've read around 800 pages of the Life thus far. I also took a break to read Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763 (McGraw-Hill 1950), a lovely large hardcover with great paper and type and generous margins and a preface by Christopher Morley, what more could one ask for! Then I read Johnson's fictional morality tale, Rasselas, in a nice little hardcover reprint from the 1960s. Now I've returned to the Life, to pick up where I left off. I don't usually read in this roundabout manner, but I'm finding that each additional text I get my hands on only enriches the experience of reading the Life, as the people and their achievements (and foibles) begin to live and breathe. Thus, reading Boswell's version of meeting Johnson for the first time, in the Life, then reading his account of that entire year in his own London Journal, gives me the backstory, as it were, firsthand.

I am still searching for an affordable facsimile reprint of Johnson's Dictionary. And I begin to despair. I have the abridged version that Levenger printed a while back, and it is very nice indeed, but who wants to say, "A few years ago I read Johnson's Dictionary. Um, the abridged version..." Speaking of the tactile pleasures of reading, this edition is quite impressive. But the cost, the cost! I may have to resort to interlibrary loan.

I know all this verbiage only mentions what I'm reading, not what I think about what I'm reading. Well, regarding all the books we love so dearly, those old books that come to life under our careful hands, how many times can we keep saying we love them? Are there new ways to say such things? I begin to despair of that, too.

Sarah - how you feel about what you are reading comes through very clearly. It almost tempts me to try the books myself. How wonderful that you are having such a great, good time in the bleak midwinter. Kathleen
Hello Sarah and the happiest 2011

read at Christmas evening, being in my village (of about 12-15 people), C Morl essay on Mrs Thrale + Bosw.
Of course, thought of you and how you bring the past into a lovely present
Hi Kathleen, I'm glad to hear that, considering that when writing I feel too effusive most of the time, and usually wonder if I've said anything more than just "I love this book!"

Antony, great books remain alive forever, don't they? The authors of great books, I should say...? Those with generosity of spirit, especially. A very happy new year to you too.
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