This revolution is unlike all other revolutions in many respects.
It is not sporadic. Jack London resigned firom the Socialist Party in , accusing it of lacking fire and fight. One wonders what he would say today, were he alive, about " the devolution. And Nostradamus, Janko Lavrin, Paul Brunton, Peguy, Ouspensky's In Search of tlie Miraculous, Letters from the Mahatmas, Fechner's Life After Death, Claude Houghton's meta- physical novels, Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise another book about books , the language of night, as Eugene Jolas calls it, Donald Keyhoe's book on the flying saucers, cybernetics and dianetics, the importance of nonsense, the subject of resurrection and ascension, and, among other things, a recent book by Carlo Suares the same who wrote on Krishnamurti , entitled Le Mythc Judeo-Chritien.
I shall also — " why not? In fact, I have already written quite a few pages on this theme, which I have held over for the second volume. Meanwhile I am very much in need of authentic data. I should like to know, for example, what are the great pornographic books of all time. Rereading it, I was overcome with mortification that I could have forgotten the power and the splendor of this work. It is a poetic justification, I might almost, say, or paean or dithyramb, only fifty-one pages long, unique in its genre, and true as only highly imaginative works can be.
It is a breviary for the initiated. Apologies and congratulations, Dicko! How widely are their books circulated and where chiefly? In what languages? I can think of only three great writers whose works are still banned in England and America, and then only certain of their works, not all. What of Restif de la Bretonne, concerning whom an American, J. And what about that first pornographic novel in the English language. The Memoirs of Fanny Hill? It is just two hundred years since it first appeared, and it has never gone out of print, as every American tourist in Paris well knows.
Milosz, the Polish poet who died not long ago at Fontaine- bleau. Nor have I yet received a good book on the Children's Crusades. And now a word about the man to whom this book is dedicated — Lawrence Clark Powell. It was on one of his visits to Big Sur that this individual, who knows more about books than any one I have ever had the good fortune to meet, suggested that I write for him if for no one else a short book about my experience with books. Some months later the germ, which had always been dormant, took hold. After writing about fifty pages I knew that I could never rest content with a summary account of the subject.
Powell knew it too, no doubt, but he was cunning or discreet enough to keep it to himself. I owe Larry Powell a great deal. Certainly no librarian could be more zealous than he in making books a vital part of our life, which they are not at present. Nor could any librarian have given me greater direct aid than he. Not a single question have I put to him which he has not answered fully and scrupulously. No request of any sort, in fact, has he ever turned down. Should this book prove to be a failure it will not be his feult.
Name That Book
Here I must add a few words about other individuals who extended their aid in one way or another. First and foremost, Dante T. Zaccagnini of Port Chester, New York. You, Dante, whom I have never met, how can I express to you my deep gratitude for all the arduous labors you performed — and voluntarily! All done with discretion, tact, humility and devotion. Words fail me.
It should be undentood that when I began this task there were, I felt, several hundred books which I needed to borrow or to own. My only recourse, not having the money to buy them, was to make up a list of titles and disseminate it among my friends and acquaintances — and, among my readers. The men and women whose names I have given at the close of this volume suppHed me with my wants. Many of these were simply readers whom I got to know through correspondence. The " friends " who could most afford to send me the books I so sorely needed, and whom I counted upon, failed to come through.
An experience of this sort is always illuminating. The friends who fail you are always replaced by new ones who appear at the critical moment and from the most unexpected quarten. One of the few rewards an author obtains for his labors is the conversion of a reader into a warm, personal friend. One of the rare deHghts he experiences is to receive exactly the gift he was waiting for from an unknown reader. Every sincere writer has, I take it, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such unknown friends among his readers. My case is somewhat different. I have need of every one. I am a borrower and a lender.
I make use of any and all who volunteer their aid. I would be ashamed not to accept these gracious over- tures. The latest one was from a student at Yale, Donald A. In filing a letter of mine to Professor Henri Peyre of the French Department there, a letter in which I had made an appeal for clerical help, this young man read my letter and spontaneously offered his services.
A grand gesture! Sehr Schon! A case in point is the fortuitous emergence of John Kidis of Sacramento. A request for a signed photograph led to a brief interchange of letters followed by a visit and a shower of gifts. John Kidis originally Mestakidis is a Greek, whidi explains mudi. But it doesn't explain everything. I dont know which I appreciate the more, the armfiils of books some of them very difficult to find which he dumped on my desk or the never-ceasing flow of gifts, viz.
How is one to account for such generosity? How ever repay it? It goes without saying, I trust, that I shall welcome from the readers of tliis book any and all indications of error, omission, falsification or misjudgment. I am well aware that this book, because it is " about books," will go to many who have never read me before, I hope that they will spread the good word, not abotn 19 PREFACE this book, but about the books they love.
Our world is rapidly drawing to a close ; a new one is about to open. If it is to flourish it will have to rest on deeds as well as faith. The word will have to become flesh. There are few among us today who are able to view the immediate future with anything but fear and apprehension.
If there is one book among all those I have recendy read which I might signal as con- taining words of comfort, peace, inspiration and sublimity, it is Henry Adams' Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartrfs. Particularly the chapters dealing with Chartres and the cult of the Virgin Mary.
She is there as Queen, not merely as intercessor, and her power is such that to her the difierence between us earthly beings is nothing. Pierre Mauclerc and PhiHppe Hurepel and their men-at-arms are afraid of her, and the Bishop himself is never quite at his ease in her presence ; but to peasants, and beggars, and people in trouble, this sense of her power and caJm is better than active sympathy. They want to see God, and to know that He is watching over His own. There are writers, such as this man, who enrich us — and others who impoverish us. However it be, there is all the while a more important thing going on.
All the while, whether we enrich or impoverish, we who write, we authors, we men of letters, we scribblers, are being supported, protected, maintained, enriched and endowed by a vast horde of unknown individuals — the men and women who watch and pray, so to speak, that we reveal the truth which is in us. How vast this multitude is no man knows. We swim in the same stream, we drink from the same source, yet how often or how deeply are we aware, we who write, of the common need i If to write books is to restore what we have taken from the granary of Hfe, from sisters and brothers unknown, then I say : " Let us have more books!
The index of all references to all books and authors cited in all of my books will be included in the second volume. It is the first time I have had the pleasure of working with anything like a collection of books. There are probably no more than five hundred in all, but for the most part they represent my own choice. It is the first time, since I began my writing career, that I am surrounded with a goodly number of the books I have always longed to possess.
The fact, however, that in the past I did most of my work without the aid of a Hbrary I look upon as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. One of the first things I associate with the reading of books is the struggle I waged to obtain them. Not to own them, mind you, but to lay hands on them. From the moment the passion took hold of me I encountered nothing but obstacles.
The books I wanted, at the pubUc Hbrary, were always out. And of course I never had the money to buy them. In those days the books which young people were prohibited from reading were decorated with stars — one, two or three — according to the degree of immoraHty attributed to them. I suspect this procedure still obtains. I hope so, for I know of nothing better calculated to whet one's appetite than this stupid sort of classification and prohibition. What makes a book live? How often this question arises!
The answer, in my opinion, is simple. A book Hves through the pas- sionate recommendation of one reader to another. Nothing can throttle this basic impulse in the human being. Despite the views of cynics and misanthropes, it is my beHef that men will always strive to share their deepest experiences. Books are one of the few things incn cherish deeply.
A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunirion. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. Lend and borrow to the maximum — of both books and money! But especially books, for books represent infinitely more than money. A book is not only a fiiend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold. Here an irrepressible impulse seizes me to offer a piece of gratuitous advice.
It is this : read as Uttle as possible, not as much as possible! Oh, do not doubt that I have envied those who drowned themselves in books. I, too, would secretly Hke to wade through all those books I have so long toyed with in my mind. But I know it is not important. I know now that I did not need to read even a tenth of what I have read.
The most difficult thing in Ufe is to learn to do only what is strictly advantageous to one's welfare, strictly vital. There is an excellent way to test this precious bit of advice I have not given rashly. When you stumble upon a book you would like to read, or think you ought to read, leave it alone for a few days. But think about it as intensely as you can.
Let the title and the author's name revolve in your mind. Think what you yourself might have written had the opportunity been yours. Ask yourself earnestly if it be absolutely necessary to add this work to your store of knowledge or your fund of enjoyment. Try to imagine what it would mean to forego this extra pleasure or erdightenment.
Then, if you find you must read the book, observe with what extraordinary acumen you tackle it. Observe, too, that however stimulating it may be, very Httle of the book is really new to you. If you are honest with yourself you will discover that your stature has increased from the mere effort of resisting your impulses.
Indubitably the vast majority of books overlap one another. Few indeed are those which give the impression of originality, either in style or content. He reads most authors in their original tongue. Not only that, but when he Ukes an author he reads every last book the man has written, as well as his letters and all the books that have been written about him. In our day his case is almost unparalleled, I imagine. For, not only has he read widely and deeply, but he has himself written a great many books. All on the side, as it were. He is, in a sense, the JuHus Caesar of Hterature.
The first named, a decidedly " bad " book, I read as a boy. I thought it worth including in my list because no other book ever made me laugh so heartily. Later, in my teens, I made periodical trips to the local hbrary to paw the books on the shelf labelled " Humor. This is the one realm of Uterature which is woefully meagre and deficient. Dead Souls, two or three of Chesterton's works, and Juno and the Paycock, I am hard put to it to mention anything outstanding in this category of humor.
There are passages in Dostoievsky and in Hamsun, it is true, which still bring tean of laughter to my eyes, but they are only passages. The professional humorists, and their names are legion, bore me to death. It would be an achievement, I feel, if I could write just one humorous book before I die. The Chinese, incidentally, possess a sense of humor which is very close, very dear, to me. Particularly their poets and philosophers.
In books for children, which influence us the most— I mean fiiiry tales, legends, myths, allegories— humor is, of course, woefully absent. Horror and tragedy, lust and cruelty, seem to be the cardinal ingredients. As we grow older, fantasy and imagination become increasingly rare to find.
One is carried along on a treadmill which grows increasingly monotonous. The mind becomes so dulled that it takes a truly extraordinary book to rout one out of a state of indifference or apathy. With childhood reading there is a factor of significance which we arc prone to forget — the physical ambiance of the occasion. How distinctly, in after years, one remembers the feel of a favorite book, the typography, the binding, the illustrations, and so on. How easily one can locaHze the time and place of a first reading. Some books are associated with illness, some with bad weather, some with punishment, some with reward.
In the remembrance of these events the inner and outer worlds fiise. These readings are distinctly " events " in one's life. There is one thing, moreover, which differentiates the reading done in childhood firom later reading, and that is the absence of choice. The books one reads as a child arc thrust upon one. Lucky the child who has wise parents!
So powerful, however, is the dominion of certain books that even the ignorant parent can hardly avoid them. Only recently, after the lapse of almost fifty years, I reread Henty's Lion of the North. What an experience! As a boy, Henty was my favorite author. Every Christmas my parents would give me eight or ten of his books. I must have read every blessed one before I was fourteen. Today, and I regard this as phenomenal, I can pick up any book of his and get the same fascinating pleasure I got as a boy.
He seems, rather, to be on intimate terms with him. To the lads of my day they were vitally important, because they gave us our first perspective of world history. In it appears that strange, enigmatic figure— Wallenstein. I began by speaking of my " hbrary. Like ours, his was an age of intolerance, persecution, and wholesale massacres. I had often heard, to be sure, of Montaigne's withdrawal from active Hfe, of his devotion to books, of his quiet, sober life, so rich in inward ways.
There, of course, was a man who could be said to possess a Hbrary! For a moment I envied him. If, I thought to myself, I could have in this Uttle room, right at my elbow, all the books which I cherished as a child, a boy, a young man, how fortunate I would be! It was always my habit to mark excessively the books I liked. How wonderful it would be, thought I, to see those markings again, to know what were my opinions and reactions in that long ago.
I thought of Arnold Bennett, of the excellent habit he had formed of inserting at the back of every book he read a few blank pages whereon he might record his notes and impressions as he went along. One is always curious to know what one was like, how one behaved, how one reacted to thoughts and events, at various periods in the past.
In the marginal annota- tions of books one can easily discover one's former selves. When one realizes the tremendous evolution of one's being which occurs in a lifetime one is bound to ask : " Does life cease vwth bodily death i Have I not Hved before? Will I not appear again on earth or perhaps on some other planet i Am I not truly imperish- able, as is all else in the universe t " Perhaps, too, one may be impelled to ask himself a still more important question : " Did I learn my lesson liere on earth? He says that he was unable to recall the contents, or even his impressions, of certain books, many of which he had read not once but several times.
I feel certain, however, that he must have had a good memory in other respects. Most everyone has a faulty, spotty memory. I am one of those who have a weak memory in certain respects and a strong one in others. In short, just the kind of memory which is useful for me. When I really wish to recall something I can, though it may take considerable time and effort.
I know quietly that nothing is lost.
But I know also that it is important to cultivate a " forget- tery. The only kind of memory I wish to preserve is the Proustian sort. To know that there is this infaUible, total, exact memory is sufficient for me. There were certain passages, a considerable number, I might say, of which I had only to read the opening words and the rest followed Hke music. The sense of the words had lost, in some instances, some of the importance I once attached to them, but not the words themselves. Every time I struck these passages, for I had read them again and again, the language became more redolent, more pregnant, more charged with that mysterious quality which every great author embeds in his language and which is the mark of his uniqueness.
At any rate, so impressed was I by the vitality and hypnotic character of these Spenglerian passages that I decided to quote a number of them in their entirety. It was an experiment which I felt obHged to conduct, an experiment between myself and my readers. The lines I chose to quote had become my very own and I felt that they had to be transmitted. Were they not every bit as important in my Hfe as the haphazard encounters, crises and events which I had described as my own? Why not pass Oswald Spengler on intact also since he was an event in my life? They are never at my elbow, fortunately or unfortunately.
Sometimes I spend whole days trying to recollect where I have secreted them. Thus, the other day, opening one of my Paris notebooks to look for something else, I stimibled on one of those passages which have hved with me for years. It begins : " The poet of the Fleurs du Mai loved what is improperly called the style of decadence, and which is.
Some people have the opposite compulsion — they keep these precious revelations secret. My weakness is to shout from the rooftop whenever I beHeve I have discovered some- thing of vital importance. On finishing a wonderfril book, for example, I almost always sit down and write letters to my friends, sometimes to the author, and occasionally to the publisher. The experience becomes a part of my daily conversation, enters into the very food and drink I consume. I called this a weakness. Perhaps it is not.
Graham Howe, author of War Dance, put it another way, which I like even better. And, though reading may not at first blush seem like an act of creation, in a deep sense it is. Without the enthusiastic reader, who is really the author's coimterpart and very often his most secret rival, a book would die. The man who spreads the good word augments not only the life of the book in question but the act of creation itself.
He breathes spirit into other readers. He sustains the creative spirit everywhere. Whether he is aware of it or not, what he is doing is praising God's handiwork. He knows that he could not participate in the author's private experience were he not composed of the same substance through and through. And when I say author I mean Author. In the Appendix the reader will find a list of authors and titles arranged in a firank and curious way. It is this : many of the books one Uves with in one's mind are books one has never read.
Sometimes these take on amazing importance. There are at least three categories of this order. The first comprises those books which one has every intention of reading some day but in all probability never will ; the second comprises those books which one feels he ought to have read, and which, some at least, he undoubtedly will read before he dies ; the third comprises the books one hears about, talks about, reads about, but which one is almost certain never to read because nothing, seemingly, can ever break down the wall of prejudice erected against them. In the first category are those monumental works, classics mostly, which one is usually ashamed to admit he has never read : tomes one nibbles at occasionally, only to push them away, more than ever convinced that they are still unreadable.
The list varies with the individual. For myself, to give a few outstanding names, they comprise the works of such celebrated authors as Homer, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Hegel, Rousseau excepting Entile , Robert Brown- ing, Santayana. In the main, however, the books one neglects, or deUberately spurns, seldom get read. Nothing on earth, for example, could induce me to tackle anew Spenser's Faery Queen, which I began in college and fortunately dropped because I left that institution in a hurry.
Never again will I look at a line of Edmund Burke, or Addison, or Chaucer, though the last-named I think altogether worthy of reading. Some of the most exciting Hterary works spring from cultures which have not contributed directly to our development. American Indian folklore leaves me cold, whereas the folklore of Afiica is near and dear to me.
I said that sometimes it is an esteemed author who puts one on the track of a buried book. He liked that book? Often it happens that it is not a friend of similar tastes who revives one's interest in a dead book but a chance acquaintance. In a vacant mood, at loose ends, as we say, suddenly the recollection of this conversation occurs, and we are ready to give the book a trial. Then comes a hock, the shock of discovery. Wuthering Heights is for me an example of this sort. Then one day a friend, whose taste I suspected to be shallow, let drop a few pregnant words about it.
Though I promptly proceeded to forget his remarks, the poison sank into me. Without realizing it, I nur- tured a secret resolve to have a look at this famous book one day. Finally, just a few years ago, Jean Varda put it in my hands. Yes, one of the very great novels in the EngHsh language. And I, through pride and prejudice, had almost missed reading it. Quite another story is that of The City of God. Many years ago I had, like everyone else, read the Confessions of St. And it had made a deep impression.
I found it not only boring and deadly, but in parts monstrously ridiculous. An English bookseller, hearing from a mutual friend — to his surprise, no doubt — that I had read this work informed me that he could get a good price for it if I would only annotate it.
I sat down to read it once again, taking elaborate pains to make copious remarks, usually derogatory, in the margins ; after spending a month or so at this vain task I dispatched the book to England. And that was the last I heard from him. Droie d'histoire! There are some very celebrated confessions, however, which I have never been able to wade through. One is Rousseau's, another is de Quincey's. Only recently I took another stab at Rousseau's Confessions, but after a few pages was forced to abandon it.
His Emile, on the other hand, I fully intend to read— when I can find a copy with readable type. The Httle I did read of it had an extraordinary appeal. I know that there are several universities which base their entire curricula on such select lists. It is my opinion that each man has to dig his own foundations. If one is an individual at all it is by reason of his uniqueness. Whatever the material which vitally aflfected the form of our culture, each man must decide for himself which elements of it are to enter into and shape his own private destiny. The great works which are singled out by the professorial minds represent their choice exclusively.
It is in the nature of such intellects to beheve that they are our appointed guides and mentors. It may be that, if left to our own devices, we would in time share their point of view. But the surest way to defeat such an end is to promulgate the reading of select lists of books — the so-called founda- tion stones. A man should begin with his own times. He should become acquainted first of all with the world in which he is Uving and participating. He should not be afraid of reading too much or too Uttle. He should take his reading as he docs his food or his exercise.
The good reader will gravitate to the good books. He will discover firom his contemporaries what is inspiring or fecundating, or merely enjoyable, in past Hterature. He should have the pleasure of making these discoveries on his own, in his own way. What has worth, charm, beauty, wisdom, cannot be lost or forgotten. But things can lose all value, all charm and appeal, if one is dragged to them by the scalp. Have you not noticed, after many heart-aches and disillusionments, that in recommending a book to a friend the less said the better i The moment you praise a book too highly you awaken resistance in your listener.
One has to know when to give the dose and how much — and if it is to be repeated or not. The same sort of strategy might well be applied where the reading of books is concerned. Discourage a man in the right way, that is, with the right end in view, and you will put him on the path that much more quickly. The important thing is not which books, which experiences, a man is to have, but what he puts into them of his own. One of the most mysterious of all the intangibles in Hfe is what we call influences. Undoubtedly influences come under the law of attraction.
But it should be borne in mind that when we are pulled in a certain direction it is also because we pushed in that direction, perhaps without knowing it. It is obvious that we are not at the mercy of any and every influence. Nor are we always cogni- zant of the forces and factors which influence us from one period to another. Some men never know themselves or what motivates their behavior. Most men, in fact. With others the sense of destiny is so clear, so strong, that there hardly seems to be any choice : they 1 create the influences needed to fulfill their ends.
I use the word i " create " deHberately, because in certain startling instances the j individual has literally been obUged to create the necessary influences. My reason for introducing such an abstruse element is that, where books are concerned, just as with friends, lovers, adventures and discoveries, all is inextricably mixed. The desire to read a book is often provoked by the most unexpected incident.
To begin with, everything that happens to a man is of a piece. The books he chooses to read are no exception. He may not have read them if he detested this aunt. Of the thousands of. The books a man reads are determined by what a man is. If a man be left alone in a room with a book, a single book, it does not follow that he will read it because he has nothing better to do. If the book bores him he will drop it, though he may go well- nigh mad for want of anything better to do. Some men, in reading, take the pains to look up every reference given in the foomotes ; others again never even glance at footnotes.
The adventures and discoveries of Nicholas Flamel in connec- tion with the Book of Abraham the Jew constitute one of the golden pages in literature. As I was saying, the chance remark of a friend, an unexpected encounter, a footnote, illness, solitude, strange quirks of memory, a thousand and one things can set one off in pursuit of a book. There are times when one is susceptible to any and all suggestions, hints, intimations.
And there are times again when it takes dynamite to put one afoot and astir. One of the great temptations, for a writer, is to read when engaged in the writing of a book. With me it seems that the moment I begin a new book I develop a passion for reading too. In fact, due to some perverse instinct, the moment I am launched on a new book I itch to do a thousand different things — not, as is often the case, out of a desire to escape the task of writing.
What I fmd is that I can write and do other things. When the creative urge seizes one — at least, such is my experience — one becomes creative in all directions at once. It was in the days before I undertook to write, I must confess, that reading was at once the most voluptuous and the most pernicious of pastimes.
Looking backward, it seems to me as if the reading of books was nothing more than a narcotic, stimulating at first but depressing and paralyzing afterwards. From the time I began in earnest to write, the reading habit altered. A new element crept into it. A fecundating element, I might say. As a young man I often thought, on putting a book down, that I could have done much better myself The more I read the more critical I became. Hardly anything was good enough for me. Gradually I began to despise books — and authors too. Often the writers I had most adored were the ones I castigated mercilessly.
There was always a fringe of authors, to be sure, whose magic powers baffled and eluded me.
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I read cold- bloodedly, with all the powers of analysis I possessed. In order, bcHeve it or not, to rob them of their secret. Yes, I was then naive enough to beUcve that I could discover what makes the clock tick by taking it apart. I learned something about style, about the art of narration, about effects and how they are produced.
Best of all, I learned that there really is a mystery involved in the creation of good books. To say, for example, that the style is the man, is to say almost nothing. Even when we have the man we have next to nothing. The way a man writes, the way he speaks, the way he walks, the way he does everything, is unique and inscrutable. The important thing, so obvious that one usually overlooks it, is not to wonder about such matters but to listen to what a man has to say, to let his words move you, alter you, make you more and more what you truly are.
The most important factor in the appreciation of any art is the practice of it. In reading Van Gogh's letters to his brother, one is struck by the vast amount of meditation, analysis, comparison, adoration and criticism he indulged in during the course of his brief and frenzied career as a painter. It is not uncommon, among painters, but in Van Gogh's case it reaches heroic proportions.
Van Gogh was not only looking at nature, people, objects, but at other men's canvases, studying their methods, techniques, styles and approaches. He reflected long and earnestly on what he observed, and these thoughts and observations penetrated his work. He was anything but a primitive, or a " fauve. It happens that Van Gogh, without having any literary pretensions whatever, wrote one of the great books of our time, and without knowing that he was writing a book. His life, as we get it in the letters, is more revelatory, more moving, more a work of art, I would say, than are most of the famous autobiographies or autobiographical novels.
He tells us unreservedly of his struggles and sorrows, withholding nothing. His life, in that it makes clear the value and the meaning of dedication, is a lesson for all time. Van Gogh is at one and the same time — and of how few men can we say this! He may have been obsessed, or possessed rather, but he was not a fanatic working in the dark. He possessed, for one thing, that rare faculty of being able to criticize and judge his own work. He proved, indeed, to be a much better critic and judge than those whose business it unfortunately is to criticize, judge and condemn.
The more I write the more tolerant I grow , with regard to my fellow writers. I am not including " bad " writers, for with them I refuse to have any traffic. But with those who are sincere, with those who are honestly struggling to express themselves, I am much more lenient and understanding than in the days when I had not yet written a book. I can learn from the poorest writer, provided he has done his utmost. Indeed, I have learned a very great deal from certain " poor " writers. In reading their works I have been struck time and again by that freedom and boldness which it is almost impossible to recapture once one is " in harness," once one is aware of the laws and limitations of his medium.
But it is in reading one's favorite authors that one becomes supremely aware of the value of practicing the art of writing. One reads then with the right and the left eye. Without the least diminution of the sheer enjoyment of reading, one becomes aware of a marvellous heightening of conscioumess. In reading these men the element of the mysterious never recedes, but the vessel in which their thoughts are contained becomes more and more transparent.
Drunk with ecstasy, one returns to his own work revivified. Criticism is con- verted into reverence. One begins to pray as one never prayed before. One no longer prays for oneself but for Brother Giono, Brother Cendrars, Brother Celine — for the whole galaxy of fellow authors, in fact. One accepts the uniqueness of his fellow artist imreservedly, realizing that it is only through one's uniqueness that one asserts his commonness.
One no longer asks for something different of his beloved author but for more of the same. Even the ordinary reader testifies to this longing. What gratitude for even the tiniest posthumous fragment! Even the perusal of an author's expense account gives us a thrill. The moment a writer dies his Hfe suddenly becomes of momentous interest to us. His death often enables us to see what we could not sec when he was aUve — that his Hfe and work were one. Is it not obvious that the art of resuscitation biography masks a profound hope and longing? We are not content to let Balzac, Dickens, Dostoievsky remain immortal in their works — we want to restore them in the flesh.
Sometimes it seems as though the influence of the dead were more potent than the influence of the living. If the Saviour had not been resurrected, man would certainly have resurrected Him through grief and longing. They were alive and they spoke to me! That is the simplest and most eloquent way in which I can refer to those authors who have remained with me over the years. Is this not a strange thing to say, considering that we are dealing, in books, with signs and symbols i Just as no artist has ever succeeded in rendering nature on canvas, so no author has ever truly been able to give us his Hfe and thoughts.
Autobiography is the purest romance. Fiction is always closer to reaHty than fact. The fable is not the essence of worldly wisdom but the bitter sheU. One might go on, through aU the ranks and divisions of Hterature, unmasking history, exposing the myths of science, devaluating aesthetics. Nothing, on deep analysis, proves to be what it seems or purports to be.
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Man continues to hunger. Is it not strange to understand and enjoy what is incommunicable? Man is not communicating with man through words, he is communing with his feUow man and with his Maker. Over and over again one puts down a book and one is speechless. Sometimes it is because the author seems " to have said everything. It is from the silence that words are drawn, and it is to the silence that they return, if properly used. In the interval something inexpHcable takes place : a man who is dead, let us say, resuscitates himself, takes possession of you, and in departing leaves you thoroughly altered.
He did this by means of signs and symbols. Was this not magic which he possessed — perhaps still possesses? Though we know it not, we do possess the key to paradise. Wc talk a great deal about understanding and communicating, not only with our fellow man but with the dead, with the imbom, with those who inhabit other realms, other universes. We believe that there are mighty secrets to be unlocked. We hope that science will poillt the way, or if not, religion. We dream of a Hfe in the distant future which will be utterly different from the one we now know ; we invest ourselves with powers unnameable.
Yet the writers of books have ever given evidence not only of magical powers but of the existence of universes which infringe and invade our own Httle universe and which are as famiUar to us as though we had visited them in the flesh. These men had no " occult " masters to initiate diem. They sprang from parents similar to our own, they were the products of environments similar to our own. What makes them stand apart then? Not the use of imagination, for men in other walks of Hfe have displayed equally great powers of imagination. Not the mastery of a technique, for other artists practice equally difficult techniques.
No, to me the cardinal fact about a writer is his abihty to " exploit " the vast silence which enwraps us all. Of all artists he is the one who best knows that " in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Pretending to communicate with his fellow creatures, he has unwittingly taught us to commune with the Creator. Using language as his instrument, he demonstrates that it is not language at all but prayer.
A very special kind of prayer, too, since nothing is demanded of the Creator. Here on eartli they may have been practicing. There they are perfecting their song. Our future Ues in Universality, not won by violence, but by the strength derived from our great ideal — the reuniting of all mankind. Hamsun, as I have often said, is one of the authors who vitally affected me as writer.
None of his books intrigued me as much as Mysteries. In that period I spoke of earher, when I began to take my favorite authors apart in order to discover their secret power of enchantment, the men I concentrated on were Hamsun first of all, then Arthur Machen, then Thomas Mann. When I came to reread The Birth of Tragedy I remember being positively stunned by Nietzsche's magical use of language. Only a few years ago, thanks to Eva SikeHanou, I became intoxicated once again with this extraordinary book. I mentioned Thomas Mann. But it was Mann's skill as a writer of short stories, or novelettes, which most intrigued and baffled mc during the " analytical " period I speak of At that time Death in Venice was for me the supreme short story.
In the space of a few years, however, my opinion of Thomas Mann, and especially of his Death in Venice, altered radically. It is a curious tale and perhaps worth recounting. It was like this. During my early days in Paris I made the acquaintance of a most engaging and provocative individual whom I beHeved to be a genius. John Nichols was his name. He was a painter. Like so many Irishmen, he also possessed the gift of gab. It was a privilege to listen to him, whether he were discussing painting, Hterature, music, or talking sheer nonsense.
He had a flair for invective, and, when he waxed strong, his tongue was vitrioHc. One day I happened to speak of my admiration for Thomas Mann and, before long, I found myself raving about Death in Venice. Nichols responded with jeers and contempt. He admitted he had never read it and thought my proposal an excel- lent one. I shall never forget this experience. Before I had read three pages Thomas Mann began to crumble. Nichols, mind you, had not said a word. But reading the story aloud, and to a critical ear, suddenly the whole creaking machinery which underlay this fabrication exposed itself.
Half- way through I flung the book on the floor. Later on I glanced through The Magic Mountain and Buddenhrooks, works I had regarded as monumental, only to find them equally meretricious. This sort of experience, I must quickly add, has happened but seldom to me. There was one outstanding one — I blush to mention it! How on earth I had ever managed to find that book " funny " is beyond my comprehension. Yet I had, once. Indeed, I remember that I laughed until the tears came to my eyes.
The other day, after a lapse of thirty years, I picked it up and started to read it again. Never have I tasted a shoddier piece of tripe. Another disappointment, though much milder, lay in store for me on rereading The Triumph of the Egg. It came near to being a rotten egg.
What I started to say is that, in rereading, I find more and more that the books I long to read again are the ones I read in childhood and early youth. I mentioned Henty, bless his name! Imagine not having read any of these men since boyhood! It seems incredible. One of these, I recall, was about our great " hero " for a day — Admiral Dewey.
Another was about Admiral Farragut — probably about the battle of Mobile Bay, if there ever was such an engagement. Regarding this book I recall now that, in writing the chapter called " My Dream of Mobile " in The Air-conditioned Nightmare, I was actively aware of this tale of Farragut's heroic exploits. Without a doubt, my whole conception of Mobile was colored by this book I had read fifty years ago.
But it was through the book on Admiral Dewey that I became acquainted with my first Hve hero, who was not Dewey but our sworn enemy, Aguinaldo, the Fihpino rebel. My mother had hung Dewey's portrait, floating above the battleship Maine, over my bed. Aguinaldo, whose likeness is now dim in my mind, links up physically with that strange photograph of Rimbaud taken in Abyssinia, the one wherein he stands in prison-Hke garb on the banks of a stream. Little did my parents reaHze, in handing me our precious hero. Admiral Dewey, that they were nurturing in me the seeds of a rebel.
He was the fu-st Enemy Number One to cross my horizon. I still revere his name, just as I still revere the names of Robert E. Lee and Toussaint L'Ouverture, the great Negro hberator who fought Napoleon's picked men and worsted them. Or Emerson's Representative Men? And why not make room for another early idol, John Paul Jones? The spectacular story of this man's life is one of those projected books which Cendrars has not yet written and probably never will.
The reason is simple. Following the trail of this adventurous American, Cendrars amassed such a wealth of material that he was swamped by it. In the course of his travels, searching for rare documents and buying up rare books relating to John Paul Jones' myriad adventures, Cendrars confessed that he had spent more than tenfold the amount given him by the publishers in advance royalties. The first person to whom I ventured to read aloud was my grand- father.
Not that he encouraged it! I can still hear him saying to my mother that she would regret putting all those books in my hands. He was right. My mother did regret it bitterly, later. It was my own mother, incidentally, whom I can scarcely recall ever seeing with a book in her hand, who told me one day when I was reading The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World that she had read that book years ago herself— in the toilet. I was flabbergasted. Not that she had admitted to reading in the toilet, but that it should have been that book, of all books, which she had read there.
Reading aloud to my boyhood friends, particularly to Joey and Tony, my earhest friends, was an eye-opener for me. I discovered early in hfe what some discover only much later, to their disgust and chagrin, namely, that reading aloud to people can put them to sleep. Either my voice was monotonous, either I read poorly, or the books I chose were the wrong sort. Inevitably my audience went to sleep on me.
Which did not discourage me, incidentally, from continuing the practice. Nor did these experiences alter the opinion I had of my little friends. No, I came quietly to the conclusion that books were not for everyone. I still hold to that view. The last thing on earth I would counsel is to make everyone learn to read. If I had my way, I would first see to it that a boy learned to be a carpenter, a builder, a gardener, a hunter, a fisherman.
The practical things first, by all means, then the luxuries. And books are luxuries. Of course I expect the normal youngster to dance and sing from infancy. And to play games. I would abet these tendencies with might and main. But the reading of books can wait. To play games. Ah, there is a chapter of life in a category all by itself I mean, primarily, out-of-door games — the games which poor children play in the streets of a big city. I pass up the temptation to expand on this subject lest I write another, very different, kind of book! However, boyhood is a subject I never tire of Neither the remembrance of the wild and glorious games we played by day and night in the streets, nor the characters with whom I hobnobbed and whom I sometimes deified, as boys are prone to do.
Time and again, in my writings, I have made mention of the amazing acumen we displayed in discussing the fundamental problems of Hfe. Subjects such as sin, evil, reincarnation, good government, ethics and morality, the nature of the deity, Utopia, life on other planets — these were food and drink to us. My real education was begun in the street, in empty lots on cold November days, or on street comers at night, frequently with out skates on. Naturally, one of the things we were forever discussing was books, the books we were then reading and which we were not even sup- posed to know about.
It sounds extravagont to say so, I know, but it docs seem to me that only the great interpreters of Uterature can rival the boy in the street when it comes to extracting the flavor and essence of a book. In my humble opinion, the boy is much nearer to understanding Jesus than the priest, much closer to Plato, in his views on government, than the political figures of this world. During this golden period of boyhood there was suddenly injected into my world of books a whole Hbrary, housed in a beautiful walnut bookcase with glass doors and movable shelves, of boys' books.
They were from the collection of an Englishman, Isaac Walker, my father's predecessor, who had the distinction of being one of the first merchant tailors of New York. As I review them now in my mind, these books were all handsomely bound, the titles embossed usually in gold, as were the cover designs. The paper was thick and glossy, the type bold and clear. In short, these books were de luxe in every respect.
Indeed, so elegantly forbidding was their appearance, that it took some time before I dared tackle them. What I am about to relate is a curious thing. It has to do with my deep and mysterious aversion for everything English. I beUeve I am telling the truth when I say that the cause of this antipathy is deeply connected with the reading of Isaac Walker's Httle Hbrary. How profound was my disgust, on becoming acquainted with the contents of these books, may be judged by the fact that I have completely forgotten the titles.
Just one lingers in my memory, and even this one I am not positive is correct : A Country Squire. Educated: A Memoir Westover, Tara. Education of Little Tree Carter, Forrest. Prado Flores. El profeta Spanish Edition Khalil Gibran. Eldritch Tales Lovecraft, H. Electra Glide in Blue [Region 2].
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Inferno: Chronicles of Nick Kenyon, Sherrilyn. Ink and Honey Reynolds, Sibyl Dana. Instinct: Chronicles of Nick Kenyon, Sherrilyn. Intensity Chronicles of Nick Kenyon, Sherrilyn. Invision: Chronicles of Nick Kenyon, Sherrilyn. Is Sex Necessary? It Was Nevada Lesperance, Tony. Japanese For Dummies Sato, Eriko. Jaws of Darkness Turtledove, Harry. Jazz Improvisation: A Pocket Guide. Jealousy Strange Angels, Book 3 St. Jennifer's Body [Blu-ray].
Jerusalem Moore, Alan. Jerusalem Inn Grimes, Martha. Jerusalem Time Line-pkg of 5 pamphlets Rose Publishing. Stiles T. Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise. John Dies at the End Wong, David. Narration by Henry Fonda. Juanita Politi, Leo. Judgement in Death Robb, J. Judgment at Nuremberg. Judgment in Death Robb, J. Jurassic Park Vol. Jurassic Park [Blu-ray]. Jurassic Park [HC,]. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom [Blu-ray]. Jury Town Frey, Stephen W. Just for Us Whelan, Jill. Justice Krueger, Jim; Ross, Alex.
Justified: Season Five. Kagemusha: Shadow Warrior. Kane and Abel Archer, Jeffrey. Kavik the Wolf Dog Morey, Walt. Keep Out, Pony! Pony Pals 12 Betancourt, Jeanne. Keller 5 Book Series Block, Lawrence. Kevin Costner Keith, Todd. Killing Zoe artisan. Killjoy Cleeves, Ann. Knight Errant Miller, John Jackson. Knockemstiff Pollock, Donald Ray. Korean For Dummies Hong, Jungwook. Kushiel's Dart Carey, Jacqueline. Mexicano Esparza, Bill. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible!
Goldstein, Jonathan. Ladies' Night Andrews, Mary Kay. Lady Slings the Booze Robinson, Spider. Lady in White Director's Cut. Lake in the Clouds Wilderness Donati, Sara. Landing Donoghue, Emma. Lanny: A Novel Porter, Max. Laravel: Up and Running Stauffer, Matt. Learning Python, 5th Edition Lutz, Mark. Leave Me Alone! Brosgol, Vera. Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin.
Legend Of The Golden Gun. Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume 2. Legend of Korra: Book Three - Change. Les Miserables Victor Hugo. Lethal Vintage Gordon, Nadia. Letter from a Stranger Bradford, Barbara Taylor. Letters From A Killer. Moody Jr. Life Is Tremendous Jones, Charlie. Stanley Schmidt. Life of Fred--Apples Stanley F. Life of Fred: Edgewood Stanley F.
Life of Fred: Fractions Ph. D Stanley F. Lifeskills for Adult Children Janet G. Woititz; Alan Garner. Lightfoot Jennings, Nicholas. Linux Bible Negus, Christopher. Little Shop of Horrors. Lone Rider Elspeth Beard. Looking for Alaska Jenkins, Peter. Heckel IV. Lost in America DVD. Lost in America by Warner Home Video. Lost: Season 6 - Final Season. Love Her Wild: Poems Atticus. Love Me Do! Love Songs Lawrence Sanders. Love, Rosie Ahern, Cecelia. Lovejoy - The Complete Season 3. Loving Bad Volume 1 Ure, Regan. Low Country Siddons, Anne Rivers. Loyalty in Death Robb, J.
Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems Addonizio, Kim. Lucifer: The Complete First Season. Lucifer: The Complete Second Season. Lucifer: The Complete Third Season. Luck Factor Richard Wiseman. Lupe goes to school; Brann, Esther. Lust Killer Rule, Ann. M Is for Magic Gaiman, Neil.
METRO English language edition. Magic School Bus: Season 1. Magic School Bus: Season 2. Magnificent Century Costain, Thomas B. Magnificent Universe Croswell, Ken. Magnolia Creek Landis, Jill Marie. Major Crimes: Season 2. Major Crimes: Season 1. Major Crimes: Season 3. Major League [Blu-ray]. Major Operation White, James. Malcolm In the Middle. Mammoth Hunters Auel, Jean M. Manchester By The Sea. Manchild in the Promised Land Brown, Claude.
Mandolin For Dummies Julin, Don. Maneaters Capstick, Peter. Manhattan Melodrama Maniac Magee Spinelli, Jerry. Many Moons Thurber, James. Marine Biology Castro, Peter. Marvel's Agents of S. Mask: Director's Cut. Masterpiece: Downton Abbey Season 6. Masterpiece: The Jewel in the Crown. Mann; Paul Kennedy. McNally's Luck Sanders, Lawrence. Medical medium thyroid healing [hardcover], body reset diet, smoothies and fast metabolism diet 4 books collection set Anthony William; Harley Pasternak; CookNation. Memory room Blanding, Don.
Mere Christianity C. Messages from Water and the Universe Emoto, Masaru. Methodical Deception Roth, Rebekah. Methodical Illusion Roth, Rebekah. Midnight Unbound Adrian, Lara. Midsomer Murders, Series 3 Reissue. Miernik Dossier McCarry, Charles. Milady Standard Cosmetology Milady. Mildred Pierce The Criterion Collection. Millie's Fling Mansell, Jill. Mine in the Sky Kurtak, Joseph M.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Series 3. Miss Pym Disposes Tey, Josephine. Missing Monkey! Good Crooks Amato, Mary. Mistress of Justice Deaver, Jeffery. Kenneth Hite; Mark Rein-Hagen. Momofuku Chang, David; Meehan, Peter. Monk's Hood Peters, Ellis. Moonglow: A Novel Chabon, Michael. Moonlight Cove Woods, Sherryl. Moonlight Warrior Chapman, Janet.
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Movin' On Season 1. Monster John Cleaver Wells, Dan. Penny's race horse Marie Hall Ets. Mike A Mrs. Mucho Mojo Lansdale, Joe R. Mudras for Modern Life: Boost your health, re-energize your life, enhance your yoga and deepen your meditation Saradananda, Swami. Murder at the Opera Capital Crimes, No. Murder, She Wrote: Season Murder, She Wrote: Season 2. Murder, She Wrote: Season 3. Murder, She Wrote: Season 4. Murder, She Wrote: Season 8. Murder, She Wrote: Season Eleven. Murdoch Mysteries, Season Five. Murdoch Mysteries, Season One.
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 2. Murdoch Mysteries: Season 6. Murphy's Law Series One. Murphy's Law Series Two. Musketeers, The: Season 3. Mutation Phoenix Files Morphew, Chris. My Darling Clementine. My Fucking Feelings Kim, John. My Hero Academia, Vol. My Mouth Is a Volcano! Julia Cook. Mystery Science Theater Volume 1. Mystic's Musings Sadhguru. Nana in the City Castillo, Lauren. Napoleon: A Life Roberts, Andrew. Naruto, Vol. Sasuke Masashi Kishimoto. Itachi Masashi Kishimoto. Kishimoto, Masashi. Nate Expectations Federle, Tim.
Hale, Nathan. Stewart; Phillip J. Clapham; James A. Lewis, J. Navy Blues Macomber, Debbie. Navy Brat Macomber, Debbie. Necroscope Lumley, Brian. Never Been Kissed Blu-ray. Neverness Zindell, David. Salvatore New World Order A. Ralph Epperson. New York to Nome Steber, Rick. New and Selected Poems: 2 Oliver, Mary.
Nine Perfect Strangers Moriarty, Liane. Ninth Witness A. Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom. Noodles Galore Merry White. Northern Exposure: Season 2. Northern Exposure: Season 3. Northern Exposure: Season 4. Northern Exposure: Season 5. Notorious hitchcock. Numbered Account Christopher Reich. Nureyev: The Life Kavanagh, Julie. Oblivion Peter Abrahams. Oh, Sure! Blame It on the Dog! On a Highland Shore by Kathleen Givens Once Upon A Time: Season 2. Once Upon A Time: Season 3. Seuss Nursery Collection Seuss, Dr. One Lavender Ribbon Burch, Heather.
One Perfect Lie Scottoline, Lisa. One Shot Jack Reacher, No. One Tree Hill: Season 5. One Tree Hill: Season 8. One on One King, Tabitha. Only With a Highlander Chapman, Janet. Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. Out of the Darkness Turtledove, Harry. Outer Banks Siddons, Anne Rivers.
Outlander Gabaldon, Diana. Outlander - Full Season 01 - Set. Outlander - Season 3 [DVD] . Outlander: Complete Season 2 [Blu-ray]. Outlander: Season One - Volume One. Outlander: Season One - Volume Two. Outlook For Dummies Dyszel, Bill. PhD; McMurray, Ann. Overlord, Vol. Painful Yarns Lorimer Moseley. Paint Your Wagon Domestic. Parables and the Enneagram Thomson, Clarence. Paradise Judith McNaught. Paradise Alley Baker, Kevin. Pardonable Lies Winspear, Jacqueline.
Parenting: Is There an App for That? Bullock, Deborah. Patterns For Improvisation. Rachel K. Paws vs. Pax Pennypacker, Sara. Payback Sisterhood Michaels, Fern. Peachtree Road Siddons, Anne Rivers.