“All the world knows me in my book and my book in me.” – Michel de Montaigne
ROLLING FORK — I write, therefore I read.
In a more civilized time than is today’s, it was thought that one way in which to take the measure of a man was to take careful notice of what lined his bookshelves. It was thought that one might well glean some insight into another through observation of that which he thought was worthwhile enough to keep. Sort of, “you are what you read” in today’s parlance.
Of course, that line of thought was predicated on the once sound, now not so, premise that people actually did read and before the oh, so quaint modern practice of one’s buying books by the pound hoping to create the illusion of literacy. One need not be crazy about all things French to appreciate the aptness of their aversion to the nouveau riche.
However, since an interest in what makes people tick is one which has stayed with me over the years, I thought I might find it amusing to engage in a little self-analysis along this line. Given that it might still prove a valid practice, what would someone think, what conclusions about me might someone draw from an examination of my bookcases? And so, I took inventory. I didn’t count them, of course, that would be crude, but what I discovered was, well, decide for yourself:
I have a great many reference books on a great many topics, but that’s a requirement for a newspaper editor. Similarly, there are lots of tomes on the practice of journalism and lots of books written on different subjects by those who do or have practiced it, but again, that goes with the territory and is hardly revelatory of much.
But what about the others? Well, a nice word for the contents of my collection would be “eclectic.” Another one might be weird and yet another might be schizophrenic.
I have some of the classics – Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Joyce, Dante, Milton, Chaucer and the like – but I also have an almost complete collection of the works of Stephen King, whose name is not frequently mentioned in the same breath with those other gentlemen of letters.
I have several copies of different versions of the Holy Bible, but I also have several copies of the collected witticisms of George Carlin, in which little Bible-friendly is to be found.
I have a rather extensive collection of historical works written by and about one John Singleton Mosby, but that doesn’t count, because he’s kin to me on my father’s side, and I have a complete set of the works of Thomas Harris, but that doesn’t count either, because he’s practically kin to me on my mother’s.
There are books by Nixon and Haldeman and Erlichman, but there are also books by Woodward and Bernstein, Kissinger and John Dean.
Courtesy of the family of the late Hal and Carolyn DeCell, I have complete collections of the respective political novels of Allen Drury and Fletcher Knebel, from which I’ve imagined many a “what if” scenario over the years, and which I literally treasure and for which I am profoundly grateful.
There is a Southern flavor in Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, Willie Morris and Percy and Faulkner and Truman Capote’s brilliant and too often overlooked “Other Voices, Other Rooms.”
There’s Hemingway and Salinger and Heller. Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis and Shirley Jackson and “Death in Venice,” but they sit alongside what’s a surprisingly numerous group of works by the likes of Thomas Tryon and Dean Koonce. I’m not quite sure what that means but I am pretty sure that I don’t want to, either.
There’s Poe and Frost and Sandberg; there’s Shakespeare and all the great English poets, but there are also anthologies of horror and science fiction movies and rock ’n’ roll and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and anybody trying to reconcile those might find himself a tad conflicted.
An early edition illustrated copy of “Frankenstein” might be the most valuable single book I own (acquired at the estate sale of one whose estate might have been larger had she read), joined on its shelf by “Dracula” and the collected works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Philip MacDonald’s magnificent mysteries, but the next shelf begins with C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.”
So, from this what might you conclude? Am I what I read, and if so, what might that be? Ah, careful, now. I still prefer “eclectic.”