September 30, 2001

for the love of books

I've been reading For the Love of Books, a collection of writers' words
about the few books that most influenced them. It's not quite as magical as my
beloved battered copy of That Eager Zest, possibly because the latter is
entirely about magic, about the first moments when the major acolytes of words
felt the first devotional stirrings. Still, though, For the Love of Books
is far more interesting and readable than most of the similar attempts I have
seen. Likely that's because the selection of writers is well done, from John Barth
to Dave Barry to both Fadimans -- Clifton and Anne -- to Frank McCourt to John

A distressing number of them gave their deepest allegiance to Moby-Dick,
which should please she-who-was-Phelps but worries me, since I have never really
been able to read it. Maybe I'll try again, some year. Another great influence on
many is Proust's Recherche du temps perdu either in its best-known English
translation (Remembrance of Things Past) or a more modern one, or in the original.
Several picked Huckleberry Finn and Aristophanes, both of whom work better
for me. Several mentioned more idiosyncratic books, or the first children's books
that brought them to the world of words, or books that once resonated their world
but were later outgrown - Hemingway is frequently invoked in this

But in defense of my lack of interest in Moby-Dick and Papa Hemingway, here is y
favorite passage from the book. From Pete Hamill, author of Flesh and
, Snow in August, and A Drinking

"What I think poetry does -- like music-- is
hit some tuning fork in your brain. It's the reverberations of that tuning fork
that really stimulate both your imagination and your understanding of other
writers. Readers should learn to trust that tuning fork in poetry as well as
prose. There's no shame in not being able to read Jane Austen. You just say, 'It
doesn't hit my tuning fork.' "

Before this, among others of course, I read At Home With Books, a collection of photos of great home libraries. At least For the Love of Books has got me thinking about what else I should do, read, an write. The last book only left me with a nagging envy of other people's bookshelves and a desire to go tour Chatsworth. Funny, how that house and its associations seem to keep coming up -- the house itself is lauded in How Buildings Learn and its chatelaine is the youngest of the Mitford sisters. Posted by dichroic at September 30, 2001 04:59 PM

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