Last week I finished reading a book, The Gentle Madness, that outlined the lives of some of the great book collectors and personal libraries assembled over the last five hundred years. It also covered how many of those libraries were broken up over time – sold off in toto or in part, lost to fire, stolen, gifted to public institutions, or released back into the wild through glittering auctions. These were the “important” libraries of history – the first printed books, manuscripts on velum, hand-copied tracts carefully illuminated by monks in the Middle Ages – the incredibly rare and the magnificently expensive. These were the libraries of royal dukes and titans of the industrial age.
It makes me extraordinarily happy that such collectors and such libraries even exist. Even so, I walk away from that read feeling just a little bit sad – mostly because, unless there’s a multi-state lottery jackpot in my future I’ll never be able to possess books like that. I’ll never have the opportunity to walk into a room filled with five hundred year old volumes and revel in their smell and feel and the sheer joy of knowing that for just a short slice of history I am custodian of such rarities.
I love books. I love being surrounded by them. If I had but the funds, I’d like nothing more than to assemble a first rate, proper library – old classics well made and maintained dating back from the dawn of printing and beyond. Given the reality of not having fabulous mountains of wealth, mine is a simple working collection of books. It’s hardly worthy to be considered a library at this point – just 500 or so volumes of history mixed with fiction, some government and politics, and a few outliers straying into sociology. Hardly a blip when compared to some of the lions of book collecting, whose personal libraries swelled to hundreds of thousands of books.
I read what interests me at the moment, acknowledging that it would be impossible to dive down every rabbit hole – or even one tenth of the rabbit holes given the limitations of time. Sure there are a few modern first editions living in places of honor on my shelf. There are a few well worn favorites that I keep coming back to time and again. If nothing else, I can at least claim that every book that ends up on one of my shelves is one that I’ve read. Nothing earns its spot there simply for decoration or adornment.
I could save a shitload of money if I were just able to borrow books from the public library like a normal person. I’m touched lightly by that gentle madness, though. The books possess me at least as much as I possess them… and I don’t mind it even a little bit.
1. I try to read for an hour before going to bed every night. It’s a habit I’ve been in for years. Lately, though, my eyes are so tired and scratchy that it’s impossible to do comfortably. Since I regularly have my eyes checked and there’s no apparent problem with them, I can only assume the amount of screen time, reading, and writing I do during the rest of the day is catching up with me by the time I’m ready to kick back with a few chapters of the book of the moment.
2. Character assassination. When you attack someone’s character, I have no idea how you can reasonably be surprised when they push back at you hard. Accuse me of something I didn’t do and you’re damned right I’m going to get vocal about it… but when it’s being fronted by holier than thou members of Congress with their 16% approval rating, well, they deserve every every cross word and glare sent in their direction. Being told to defend yourself by proving a negative in the absence of any actual evidence against you has got to be an immensely maddening situation. Reacting with feigned shock when a man speaks out in his own defense in that situation is appalling.
3. Rain. For Christ’s sake can we just get a 48 hour break from all the damned rain. The back yard is such a mud pit that I’d be better off opening a brick-making factory than pretending to even think about fall yard work.
Today was weird. Unfortunately it was almost certainly the kind of weird that should probably stay embargoed for blogging purposes. It’s a shame, really, because those usually make the most interesting stories. Sigh. Maybe someday when I don’t have to at least be minimally concerned with not throwing too large a wake all over everything. For tonight, though, you’re just going to have to accept my pronouncement that it was, indeed, weird on all counts.
Instead of that, let’s focus instead on the glorious news that Amazon has started shipping my “Fall release” preorder books. I buy a lot of second hand reads, but for some authors I’m willing for fork out the premium to have them brand spanking new. Plus, it feels good buying from a source where a living author, who is presumably making a living from his writing, is going to get a cut of the proceeds. There are million good books out there you can have access to for next to nothing, but helping to make sure new material stays in the pipeline feels like the right thing to do now and then.
When I’ve already got 100+ books sitting on a shelf waiting to be picked up, you could be forgiven for thinking adding two more to the stack wouldn’t make me unduly happy. In this case, you would be exactly wrong. I get a little sparkle in my eye every time one of these little gems walks through the door. Now if I could just make more time for reading and require less time for weird, I think we’d be all set.
As a fiscal conservative with mostly libertarian social leanings, I’m regularly amused/annoyed by the classic liberal argument that runs along the lines of “conservatives are stupid hillbillies who have never picked up a book.” I can only assume when I hear that that what they really mean is “Mine is the only opinion that matters and if you disagree with me you are Satan/Hitler and I’m going to put my fingers in my ears so I’m not forced to listen to or attempt to comprehend dissenting opinions so I can go on trying to make myself look big by making others look small.”
Yes, I am a moderately conservative American raised in Appalachia. I suppose that, in and of itself, earns me the “stupid hillbilly” title in some eyes. You should know, thought, that I’ve also read Plato, Locke, and Rousseau. I’ve read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. I’ve read Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, too, and the Bible, and more biographies of great leaders of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries than I want to list. My economics shelf covers everything from Smith’s Wealth of Nations to Marx’s Capital. History? Yeah, those shelves are groaning under the weight of volumes ranged from ancient Greece and Rome, the religious wars of Europe, to the space race that I’ve read and synthesized to help inform my view of the world. I won’t bother to deep dive the fiction that’s passed through my hands over the years. Suffice to say that Dickens, Twain, and a couple hundred others are on the list.
I say all that to say this: If you want to have a frank discussion on policy or the proper role of government, I’m usually all in. If you come at me with some version on “All Republicans are…”, well you should feel free to immediately go fuck yourself. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the social media shitposting that would inevitably follow. It’s enough for me to know that by insisting in dealing in absolutes and arguments that rely on painting “all” of one group or another with a particular brush, you are far bigger part of the problem with the social discourse in this country than this stupid hillbilly could ever be.
Some people mount animal heads on their wall as trophies. Other people fill their walls with art as artifacts of their travels. Me? Well, I tend to acquire books at a prodigious rate. I seem to be acquiring them now at a far faster rate than I can actually read them, which leads me to my current troubles.
While the books I’ve read are happily filed and displayed on shelves in nearly every room, the growing “to read” stack has become something more like a “pile.” When doing most of your shopping at Goodwill or flea markets or used books shops, the time to buy is when you have it in your hand for $.50 or $1. The troublesome part, at the moment, is just what to do with this excess before allocating them “trophy” status on the display shelves.
The only logical thing to do, of course, is go out and find some inexpensive shelving that I can install in one of the spare bedrooms to serve as my own in-house book shop. Yes, I realize the far more reasonable option would to be get over my completely ridiculous desire to physically own the books I read and start drawing reading material from the local public library… but that doesn’t feel like something that’s actually going to happen. So, really using some of my newly found time off this week to rig some shelves and un-cluster the home library feels like something I can reasonably expect to accomplish without adding undue stress.
As I sit down to start writing this, it’s just a few minutes past 8AM. There’s a roast roasting, fresh sheets are on the bed, the vacuum was run through, the creatures have been tended. Even the birds have received their ration of feed. The heavy lifting of the day is done. It’s one of the perks of waking up not far past 5AM (the other being that at such an hour the world outside is brilliantly quiet, though that’s less an issue when winter’s in the air).
Yesterday I uncovered a bottle of unremarkable champaign, sparkling wine from California if we’re to be technical, that I’d stashed in the basement at some point and promptly forgotten about. Usually, finding something in the basement wouldn’t pass for something worthy of mention, except for this morning it’s a good illustration of why I don’t mind so much the 5AM wake up call and it’s corresponding 9PM bed time.
Sunday’s aren’t always a day of rest here. I don’t know how any working person could manage to give away a whole day like that. From time to time, though, the too do list thins a bit, you find a bottle of champaign in the basement, and you get to spend Sunday morning in a comfortable corner with a good book and a mimosa while the sun streams in the window.
If it weren’t for this kind of Sunday at Fortress Jeff from time to time, I’m not at all sure how I’d tolerate Monday through Friday during an average week.