One of the delights of browsing among old books is the possibility, the expectation even, that something curious and interesting will turn up. I recently picked up an attractive vintage book at my library book sale which both picqued my curiosity and was full of odd and interesting information
More than I actually want to know about the opportunities, challenges, hazards, and rewards of operating a commercial laundry business but fascinating to browse. My favorite entry describes the unusual technique for bleaching linen devised by a clever Frenchman who must have reaped a great return in advertising value whether or not his method was effective.
An enterprising Parisian laundry company bleaches linen by balloon. A few hundred feet up the air is nearly as pure as in the open country, and it is in this ozonized air that the linen is dried by the aid of a captive balloon. The linen is attached to bamboo frames, and being rough-dried while taking its aerial voyage, a considerable quantity is taken at each ascension. There are about six ascents during the day, and an extra charge of from five to fify centimes is made for each article thus treated.
Those who travel or depart only change their skies and not their condition.
(P.G.Wodehouse) is such a useful reminder of the gorgeous foolishess of things, his wit a reliable antidote to life’s hardships. There’s nothing more soothing to the soul than a well-turned phrase.
from Darke by Rick Gekoski
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
Sir Richard Steele
A man may as well expect to grow stronger by always eating, as wiser by always reading.
We live in an age that reads too much to be wise.
There are times when I think that the reading I have done in the past has had no effect except to cloud my mind and make me indecisive.
“…maybe I’m getting old.”
“Don’t be cute. You’re not even fifty.”
“What’s that got to do with it? At my age, not long ago, people were already old, or almost. My father died at fifty-seven; my other didn’t live much longer. Now everybody wants to be young; I understand, but it’s a bit stupid. It seems to me the fun in all this is being young when you’re young and being old when you’re old; in other words: you’re young when you don’t have memories and you’re old when behind every memory you find a bad memory. I’ve been finding them for a while now.”
from the novel Outlaws by Javier Cercas
…I am emboldened to say a few words as to my own conception of the art of fiction. That conception is that our treatment may be as wide as the heavens and as broad as the earth, if it does but attain the essential end of interest. All methods and schools, romance and realism, symbolism and naturalism, have the one object in view – to interest. They are all good so far as they attain that, and all useless when they cease to do so…You are right to make your book adventurous, you are right to make it theological, you are right to make it informative or controversial or idyllic, or humorous or grave or what you will, but you must make it interesting. That is essential – all the rest is detail.
But there comes the obvious retort. ‘You say “interesting” – interesting to whom?‘ The difficulty is not really a great one. The higher and more permanent work has always been interesting to all. The work which is the cult of a clique, too precious for general use, must be wanting in some quality. We know cases where obscurity of style has retarded the recognition of really great writers – but obscurity of style is not a virtue, and they were great in spite of it….If you were to make a list of the works of fiction which have proved their greatness by their permanence and by the common consensus of mankind, you would find that no narrow formula would cover them…the only point which they have in common is that each of them holds the attention of every reader.
It is just this power of holding the attention which forms the art of story-telling…It is imagination – and it is the power of conveying imagination. But we do not know what imagination is, and so all our definitions and explanations become mere juggling with words.
And still critics are found to write, ‘The book is interesting, but we confess that we are unable to say what useful purpose it serves.’ As if interest were not in itself the essential purpose!…[to help escape life’s troubles through] the window of imagination which leads out into the enchanted country…The life of a writer of fiction has its own troubles, the weary waiting for ideas, the blank reaction when they have been used, worst of all the despair when the thought which had seemed so bright and new goes dull and dark in the telling. But surely he has in return some claim to hope that if he can but interest his readers he fulfils the chief end of man in leaving others a ittle happier than he found them.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
from the Author’s Preface in The Glorious Hussar, The Best of the Exploits and Adventures of the Brigadier Gerard (originally published in 1902 Smith Elder edition of his work)
As I walked through the tunnels and tunnels of books…I felt myself surrounded by million of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.
Destiny is usually just around the corner…But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.
from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
It is a good idea sometimes to think of the importance and dignity of our every-day duties. It keeps them from being so tiresome.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
(After midnight an old classmate drops in on Inspector De Vincenzi at the police station.)
De Vincenzi looked at him. Why in the world was he here at this hour? And why had he come?
They had been classmates and friends. They were certainly friendly, but not, perhaps, close. Come to think of it, where could one find closeness these days, with men all hurling themselves towards their own destinies, with their own passions, their own needs and all the vices of the human body?
Each one of us has a secret, and the man with one he can admit to is fortunate.
from The Murdered Banker by Augusto De Angelis
It’s good to have a day for all booklovers to celebrate together. And there’s something particularly comforting in the act of reading right now. There’s the comfort of familiar loved stories, the pleasurable distraction of new ones, and the comfort of the familiar tactile and sensory pleasures of reading.
Wallace Stevens captures the immersive experience in the poem The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
UNESCO actually names this “World Book and Copyright Day”. In respect of same, I will not copy the entire poem. It is available on the Poetry Foundation website:
read the entire poem here