Wednesday, February 27, 2013


persons of a contemplative disposition

I was reminded yesterday of why certain books hang around on the bedside table for so long.  While I was putting everything away I hesitated over Ben Franklin's Papers, thinking,  Self, let's be honest here, am I really going to continue reading this?  Then my own handwritten note on my bookmark reminded me of page 41:  Ben Franklin as Silence Dogood, the opening paragraph of a letter to The New England-Courant, September 1722:

"In Persons of a contemplative Disposition, the most indifferent Things provoke the Exercise of the Imagination; and the Satisfactions which often arise to them thereby, are a certain Relief to the Labour of the Mind (when it has been intensely fix'd on more substantial Subjects) as well as to that of the Body."

It is impossible for me to read a statement like that and not wish to continue.  Impossible!  The rest of the letter doesn't disappoint - it describes a moonlight ramble on the streets of Boston and the interesting (to put it politely) characters Dogood observes.  Lightly satirical, vivid, non-judgmental, what's not to love.

The original paper is so very beautiful, by the way.  I would love to read that instead of the reprint I've got here - I've carefully read books from the eighteenth century, and facsimile editions thereof, and find that the long s is easy to adjust to after a bit.  It actually helps me with reading comprehension since it slows me down long enough to encourage a higher level of concentration on the text itself than I might otherwise give.  Usually I read quickly but remember little.  One nice feature of the volume I am reading, though, is its lovely facsimile reproduction in full of Franklin's Poor Richard, an Almanack, from 1733.  Just the thing for this particular person of a contemplative disposition.  How could I ever have thought of putting this book away, unfinished?  I ask you.

I love it when I force myself to keep reading something and then realize how wonderful it is.

The books on my bedside table always fall into three categories:
1. Aspirational reads: I want to read these books for whatever reason I know they are important, but I just can't motivate myself to start them.
2. Comfort reads: I have read them so many times I could probably recite whole passages from memory, but I read them over and over because its like spending time with friends you know you can count on.
3. No other choice reads: The books you are reading for a class or a book group even though you probably aren't enjoying them.

I just finished Boswell's London Journal (NOCR that is now a comfort read). He was very good at soaking up literary opinions of other people and pretending to have read books. Very naughty. At least I don't do that!
I totally agree with your aspirational and comfort categories, that is so where I'm at too, and thankfully I think at age 45 that I am now beyond the no other choice books. But I do still find myself reading something from time to time that I think I 'should' read, for whatever reason. And I'll tell you, it better hook me in quickly, or... off with its head! Too many other great things to read out there! Thanks so much for your comment -
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