A Short Word On Books

Here is Steinbeck:
It occurs to me that, just as the Carthaginians hired mercenaries to do their fighting for them, we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work. I hope we may not be overwhelmed one day by peoples not too proud or too lazy or too soft to bend to the earth and pick up the things we eat.
These words are sown 50 pages into Travels with Charley in Search of America, the author's account of his drive across the United States in 1960 in his GMC camper truck, Rocinante, and with his poodle, Charley.

It remains a thrill to have a good book on the go. And by book I mean a physical, in-your-hand text that can be bent, its pages dog-eared, written on, marked up, lived with. The confident print just stands there, letter upon letter, word after word, unmoving, brought to life by the scanning eye that sees that it is good.

We are a family of booked words. Here is the column of Alex's classics books on the dining room table tonight:

Okay, we're also a family of board games (me), Monday Night Football (Mike) and fancy salt (Shelagh), but the point remains: we all love books here at 8908.

For me, reading has always been so much first person singular, inseparable from the feeling of being apart, in a good way. As a boy, I would take a flashlight and a Hardy Boys book into the closet, crawl under the low ceiling of hooked, plastic-covered coats and jackets and into the nook where boxes and suitcases were stored. And there I would sit and read. Looking back, it seems I went to some imaginative lengths to wrap myself in darkness to preserve the feeling of being alone with my books and their illuminated words!

Now, the flashlight didn't always find the words that opened up new worlds. And by my university years, reading had become an assembly line process. I knew how many pages per hour I had to read to finish whatever novel or political treatise had been assigned. Not the best way to read Jane Austen or Hobbes.

What I look for now are sentences like the one from Steinbeck at the top of this page. They are works of art themselves, a joy to come upon and contemplate.










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