Thursday, January 17, 2013

Close Your Eyes, and Think of Frank Lloyd Wright

The problem with decluttering books is, in one way or another they're (almost) all worth keeping.

I have a slight book problem in my house. I don't know how many volumes I have...maybe 2,000?

I know I should get rid of some of them, but I just can't bring myself to make any real dent in my collection.

I tried to do a bit of purging this afternoon, and after an hour spent fruitlessly turning over volume after volume, I realized the key to getting rid of books: DON'T open them.

Because when you open them, even the ones you are positive you'll never get around to reading, or which will be boring or pointless, it's all to easy to be snared. I fall right in, manage to convince myself I'll get around to reading the entire thing someday, and reshelve it. I'm calling this disorder print-hypnosis. Or hypnoprint.

Look what I found today, in the pile of things I was going to get rid of.

Things to Say to the Hoi Polloi
I do not have any spare change.
Est mihi nullus nummus superfluus.
If Caesar were alive, you'd be chained to an oar.
Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris.
Hidden Insults
podex perfectus es
What You Say It Means:
You did a terrific job.
What It Really Means:
You Are A Total Asshole.

This was from "Latin For All Occasions", by Henry Beard. And in the section entitled "In The Vatican", there was a note from the previous owner of this book, who has apparently elected, out of all the pungent possibilities therein, to learn the phrase "ubi possum potiri petasi similis isti?" -- "Where can I get a hat like that?"

This cool little 1938 volume, unassumingly bound (like all good books), bears a stamp reading "Vancouver Public Library". The title is "The Complete Book of Dreams", by Edward Frank Allen.

Suspicion is indicated by a dream in which a fan dancer performs. Either a man or a woman having this dream should beware of unseemly conduct that may lead to criticism from jealous people.
FAWN (See Deer)
A young married person dreaming of a fawn has every reason to expect that his or her lover will show the utmost in faithfulness.
If a maiden dreams of drinking goat's milk, it is a sign that she will marry for money and that she will be successful in finding at the same time the man she loves.
Nudity in dreams has many beautiful implications, whether it is of a man, woman, or child. For one to dream of admiring his or her own nudity, perdicts the loss of a lover through vain ideas; but if a person is disgusted with the appearance of the body, it foretells scandal and lovers' quarrels. If one dreams of swimming in the nude, it is a prediction of pagan pleasures which will react unfavorably. To dream of seeing men or women swimming in the nude, or as members of a nudist colony, is a sign of a new and exciting love affair.

(By the way, if you have a recurrent or significant dream, leave me a quick note in the comments. I'll look it up in this book, and give you the interpretation thereof. mene mene tekel upharsin.)

"The way I've been thinking about it, riding my bike around here, is, You ride by all these pastures and they've got these big granite boulders in the middle of them. You've got a big boulder sitting there on this rolling hill. You can't just go by this boulder. You've got to try to push it. So you start rocking it, and you get a bunch of friends, and they start rocking it, and finally it starts moving. And then you realize, Maybe this wasn't the best idea. That's what we're doing as a society. This climate, if it starts rolling, we don't really know where it will stop."

From Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Being married just meant vexatious household responsibilities. As for children, who wanted them? They interfered with the lady's health and amusement for several months before birth and, though she had a foster-mother for them immediately afterwards, it took time to recover from the wretched business of childbirth, and it often happened that her figure was ruined after having more than a couple...And a lady's husband, if she was fond of him, could not be expected to keep off other women throughout the time of her pregnancy, and anyway he paid very little attention to the child when it was born. And then, as if all this were not enough, foster-mothers were shockingly careless nowadays and the child often died. What a blessing it was that those Greek doctors were so clever, if the thing had not gone too far - they could rid any lady of an unwanted child in two or three days, and nobody be any the worse or wiser.

From I, Claudius by Robert Graves. (Though that quotation is spookily apt for current times, as well as ancient Roman.)

A culture which lives through oral tradition will disintegrate when the language dies. But through that which has been preserved of Orkney folklore, we glimpse a time past where beliefs and values coincided with the laws of behaviour and the way of life to form a consistent pattern. The course of life - from the cradle to the grave - was defined through established and accepted rites. The belief in a world where rocks and oceans, plants and animals were endowed with life as man himself, and the belief that people were surrounded by good and evil forces with which they had to learn to co-exist, survived side by side with the teachings of the Church into this century. Man used both steel and the cross to protect himself against evil forces.

From The Orkney Story, by Liv Kjorsvik Schei and Gunnie Moberg


The shades of night were falling as Adam and Grandpa came up the road. Hatless, wearing an old police tunic open and unbuttoned, in place of his lost jacket, Grandpa looked proud but subdued; there was a gleam in his eye - a chink in his armour which betrayed an inward apprehension. As I crouched at the parlour window in anxious solitude, a glimpse was enough to send me scudding upstairs to the refuge of the old man's room.
There, listening tensely, I heard the sound of the front door, followed by a dreadful chaos, filled with loud recriminations from Adam, Mama's tears and lamentations, Papa's whining abuse, but not a word, not a whisper from Grandpa.
At last he came upstairs, moving slowly, and entered his room. He was sadly tarnished; his beard needed trimming; he exhaled strange and uncomfortable odours.
He threw me a quick glance, began to potter about the room, trying unsuccessfully to hum, pretending not to care. Then he picked up his battered and still sodden hat, which, earlier that day, Mama had placed reverently upon the bed. He considered it for a moment, turned artlessly to me.
"It'll stand reblocking. It was always a grand hat." [ubi possum potiri petasi similis isti?]

From The Green Years, by A.J. Cronin, 1945


But why do we rush the other way? Why do we have to hurry to the edge and look over? As tourists we run to the beach, to headlands like this - Land's End, Finisterre, Fin do Mundo - following some atavistic instinct to see where our world finishes and where, beyond the horizon,  possible worlds begin, in the hope of finding the best of them.

From Backwards out of the Big World; A Voyage into Portugal, by Paul Hyland.


What have you got sitting on your shelves, that you are sure you will never read?


Carolyn said...

Adam Smith. An Inquiry into the Wealth and Causes of Nations.

Imagine being able to swap your bookshelves with someone else's for two months, with semi-weekly chats over the treasures you are each finding. Fun!

Dave Hingsburger said...

We steadfastly kept every book we read for years. Finally, almost suddenly, we decided that it was time for the books to find other homes. We didn't throw a single one out. We gave them to libraries, to bookstores, to friends - many we now pack in a box and ship off to someone we know who we think would enjoy them. It pleases me to know that what we once cherished will now be cherished anew.

Shan said...

Carolyn, what a great idea!

Cynthia said...

I know I am late to the party, but that Latin book sounds like a blast! And yes, my shelves are littered with similar odd treasures that I can't quite part with.