Wednesday, November 12, 2008

So Many Books, So Little Time

Today... a few gathered quotes on books. There are few greater joys than reading. This week I started Walter Lippman's Public Opinion, a 1921 discussion of propaganda and mass manipulation that preceded the Bernays book I discussed yesterday. Reading is a great way to meet thinkers who live outside the sphere of our social relations. Books are a wonderful thing.

For this reason, I share a few quotes about books here, and will make a few comments to go along with them.

"Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends." ~ Dawn Adams

It is possible to love a book on many levels. Sometimes for the beauty of the language. Sometimes for the richness of the ideas it conveys. Sometimes one is impressed by the power or magical mastery of language, as in Hemingway's collection of short stories In Our Time. Without books we would be paupers.

"Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors." ~ Joseph Addison

So true. About ten years ago I began listening to books during my commute to and from the office, and on trips to the Cities. I remember listening to Michener's Mexico during a trip to Lake Geneva many years ago. Currently I am finishing A History of England, Volume 3 from 1750 to 2000. Churchill, Orwell, the Irish potato famine, the French Revolution, the descent from world power to has been... it is a history of people and places that speaks much to us today, if we would hear. What a contrast to the repetitive fluff that passes itself off as entertainment or content on the usual airwaves.

"Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life." ~ Mortimer J. Adler

When the internet first emerged, I created a project to help raise funds for a youth center computer room. I named the project Dandy Yankee Doodles, hoping to obtain doodles from celebrities and other famous folk which could be made into collectibles of some kind. Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, sent a doodle. A couple others also contributed as well. And Mortimer Adler's secretary sent a note saying that Mr. Adler did not doodle. I appreciated its thoughtful warmth. When I read this quote, it is likewise unembellished, true and straight, from a logical, good man.

"To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry." ~ Gaston Bachelard

Speaking of poetry, last night I learned that the poem that begins, "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree" was not written by a woman. Joyce Kilmer, the author of these memorable lines, was a man who ended up being killed in the trench warfare of World War I. Journalist, literary critic, lecturer and poet... Kilmer died at age 31 in the Second Battle of Marne. I think of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

"He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes." ~ Barrow

Words good and true. Who has not experienced the comforted of a good book at some point in their lives?

"A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors." ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Similar sentiments from yet another space in time.

"Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable." ~ Augustine Birrell

This quote seems directed to the writers of this world. Remember, writer, that readers are only human. If you are writing to be read, keep it in mind that you've got to keep the customer satisfied. Make it worth our while. Please don't think you're so important that whatever you say is something we need to hear whether we like it or not.

"It is well to read everything of something, and something of everything." ~ Lord Henry P. Brougham

I like this quote because it speaks of a vastness which many people are tempted to disregard. There is value in understanding what a Marx or Nietzsche or even a Hitler has written. I've read Mein Kampf. If you read National Review, try a little Mother Jones or Harper's. If you're reading Rick Warren or Billy Graham, how about tackling Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian for something to chew on. If you like postmodern deconstruction, take a stab at Kreeft's Refutation of Modern Relativism.

"After all manner of professors have done their best for us, the place we are to get knowledge is in books. The true university of these days is a collection of books." ~ Thomas Carlyle

Carlyle was a Scots Presbyterian Calvinist who lost his faith, but continued to have keen insights about life and the Brit world in which he found himself. Any serious reader can't help but come across a pithy Carlyle maxim now and then. Seems like I came across quite a few over the years, but never knew who he was till reading this third volume of the history of Britain. Carlyle figures prominently in the section dealing with the Victorian era. I half considered a full blog of Carlyle quotes last week, and will probably save them for a snowy day in the near future.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul. ~ Marcus T. Cicero

Yes, there should be books in every room. My office has a wall of books. But it pales in comparison to the walls of books my grandmother had. Alas...

"The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring." ~ Warren Chappell

The same probably applies now to blogging and electronic media..

"The mere brute pleasure of reading --the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing." ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

Ah yes.... Chesterton weighs in with a vivid image that tells all. What lover of books hasn't felt this kind of pleasure?


Anonymous said...

Ed, Your book photos reminded me of the bookshelves at the Finca Vigia in Cuba (Hemingway's home). Go to this blog and you can see a nice picture taken by his grandson of Hemingway's books! D

Ed Newman said...

Hey, that was pretty cool... Wish I still had my first typewriter like that. He has it on my copy of Outline of Great Books.

Thanks for the link. Nice to be compared to the Master in at least one respect.


Popular Posts