Treasures in a book box
December 11, 2011 by Bill
A very dear friend of mine, living in another city, has over the years built up a significant “thinking” person’s library. As he is now moving into his “golden years” he is ready to scale back his collection of books. He contacted me and asked if I would like them for my Sunday Symposium people. I almost responded so loudly he could hear me, without writing. YES, YES, I said and they started coming. So far, six packed boxes sent UPS, with more coming. It is just impossible to tell you of the joy I experienced as I went through those boxes. It was truly “treasures in a book box.”
A library inscription in Trajan’s forum in Rome reads: “Dispensary to the Soul.” Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Without books, (real pages) history is silent, science is crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”
I will never forget my first day at the University of Colorado, where I did my graduate work. I stood in front of the library building, reading the inscription at the very top of the building: “TO HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF MAN’S PAST, IS TO REMAIN A CHILD FOREVER.”
My books – how much I love them. I sit back in my desk chair and let my fingers slide off the keyboard. I pause for a moment in writing this column. I let my eyes once again caress the walls of my study, feeling their energy that feeds my spirit. The book-lined walls, how I love them. My heart pours out a “thank you” to all of the great and magnificent spirits whose thoughts and words fill these shelves and offer a feast, waiting only for my mind and soul to partake.
Goethe is there, with Albert Schweitzer and Meister Eckhart. There is Jung, Bertrand Russell and Whitehead. The energy that radiates out through my study and into me from these book-lined shelves transcends language. Loren Eiseley is there as well as the great Zen Master Suzuki, and next to the bust of Thomas Jefferson are three feet of books about this brilliant genius, and then comes James Madison, followed by Learned Hand and Oliver Wendell Holmes. My eyes move into the poetry section with e.e. cummings, and Carl Sandburg, Stanley Kunitz and Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison, and hundreds more waiting to once again fill my spirit and soul with food that is timeless.
Keith Richards, the brilliant guitarist with the Rolling Stones, knows exactly what I am talking about. His book-lined study keeps him sane, he has written. It is his ultimate retreat and sanctuary. He oversaw every aspect of the library, the size, kind of wood, furnishings. His reading is eclectic, from music to art and history. He said, “I work in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming and raving people. It is in my library where I find rest and peace and no one, I mean no one, not even the children, can walk in. I have a sign on the door that says: DO NOT ENTER.
Even Bill Gates has said that when he wants to absorb something, he has “to read it printed out.”
Books change people’s lives. That is a fact. I know. During the years I was a Marine pilot, I started serious and selective reading for the first time in my life. My life was completely changed with new directions and new values. No computer could ever have had such a profound and positive influence. Believe me, as many of you can confirm, reading a book on the computer is not even remotely the same, and can in no way be compared to picking up a book and holding it and feeling it and reading it while comfortable in an easy chair, or a bed. Books change peoples’ lives. I received an email from a dear friend. She had just finished a book I had suggested and wrote me this: “Something in me has shifted. I am less afraid. I am different today than I was yesterday and am finding power in truth.”
Many writers today are feeling the negative effects of being “wired to the electronic age.” Sam Shepard, who played Chuck Yeager in the movie “The Right Stuff” is considered today to be the most important American playwright since Edward Albee. He has a “contempt” for “word processors.” He said he wants “real pages” when he writes, that he can feel and get to know. I decided to pursue other writers and poets about their writing habits. A great many want only a legal pad and no.2 pencil. John Updike wrote only in longhand, as does Saul Bellow and Pablo Neruda, and William Styron. Joyce Gates, a professor at Princeton and winner of the National Book Award said, “I write only in longhand. I gave up word processors forever. They are not for me. They diluted my creativity. It was only shimmering words on a glass screen.”
TREASURES IN BOOK BOXES are now arriving for me. My Symposium will love them, as do I. A box full of “real pages” in Shepard’s words.
I end this column with words that changed my life and still ring in my ears: the library inscription in Trajan’s forum in Rome that reads “DISPENSARY TO THE SOUL.”