My daughter has been on a ‘clean up this dump’ kick lately, and tonight, she got going on our basement. And she found three big cardboard boxes full of books. She brought them upstairs, and my wife and I went through them, deciding which ones, after all these years, we still want to keep, and which ones we can get rid of.
Books are friends. Our house is filled to overthrowing with books. The room where I work has four big IKEA bookshelves, each one filled close to full. And a great book has to be treasured, preserved, loved. I home-teach an elderly woman, disabled to the point that she’s effectively bed-ridden, but I love visiting her. Her room is full of bookshelves and books, and she’s a thoughtful, interesting and intelligent woman; when we visit, we talk books. And conversations can last long beyond the appointed time for home teaching. She reminds me of my mother-in-law, another bibliophile of the first order.
So as my wife and daughter and I went through the books we had so carefully stored, and so carelessly forgotten, I was reminded of times I had completely forgotten.
One of the first books out was The Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Pitch.
I remember finding it in a used book store on 7th East in Provo (now long defunct), and taking it home and reading it, jaw dropping. It was a wacky book, full of gruesome details about how everyone who was involved in the martyrdom of Joseph Smith had awful lives thereafter, and died in excruciating agony, of horrible diseases. All of this, the diseases and the agonies these guys suffered, was recounted in voluptuous detail, with then a citation from whoever had told the authors the story. The book was bonkers, and it turns out, BS. But I was a college freshman, and I took it home and devoured it. I liked it so much, I took it to my grandmother (a former professor of library science, and the kind of dedicated bibliophile that puts the rest of us to shame), and she snorted in disgust. She turned to an early page, and she pointed to the book. “He cites this woman, you see? Well, I knew her well; crazy as a loon.” And she said, “this is just folklore, Eric, and a pretty nutty example of it. I’m surprised at you for being taken in by it.” And that exchange made me like the book even more! I’ve loved Mormon folklore ever since. Still, I’ve outgrown it.
The collected poetry of Philip Larkin. Keep.
I don’t remember when I first read Philip Larkin. I am the most random, idiosyncratic and unsystematic of poetry readers–I love cowboy poetry no less than Lance Larsen, tend to dislike poets we’re all supposed to like. I won’t read anything for six months and then go on a spree. But Larkin amazes me; so grim, so honest, so completely unsentimental. Among other things, I didn’t know you could put the ‘f-word’ in a poem. He did; not often, but when it was required. I kept the book, and I know I’ll be going on a Larkin binge pretty soon.
Nibley on the Timely and Timeless. Kept.
Hugh Nibley is, I think it’s fair to say, the godfather of Mormon apologetics. He was a man of extraordinary erudition, and he wrote book after book arguing for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It made him beloved. But while a lot of his research has been effectively discredited, his occasional essays on Mormon culture still hold up. He was a theatre guy too, loved good plays in good productions. He wasn’t a literary critic, particularly, but he was certainly a cultural critic, in his own inimitable, irascible way. I can’t believe I had this book in storage for fifteen years; it goes back on my shelves tonight.
Elizabethan Drama: Tossed.
A favorite anthology, consisting entirely of plays by Elizabethan authors other than Shakespeare. I remember getting it in grad school, and being fascinated by Gammer Gurton’s Needle, and Tamarlane, and Cambyses: King of Persia. There was a time when such a collection would have been called something like ‘pre-Shakespearean plays,’ or something. Shakespeare was the only thing that mattered; everyone else’s work either helped us understand Shakespeare better, or helped us realize how much better Shakespeare was than anyone else. That kind of bardolatry is passé in today’s academy (blessedly), but I remember with great pleasure a class I took in which we read and discussed all these plays. Marvin Carlson taught it, and it was one of those great classes. But I’m not a scholar anymore; send it away.
Four great plays by Henrik Ibsen. Back in the day, these kinds of anthologies were very popular among academic publishers. We teachers would have to assign certain plays to our students, and take them from anthologies, since there wasn’t really any other way for kids to get hold of them. But publishers didn’t want to actually solicit good translations, so they’d find some public domain (and very old-fashioned) translation, and publish four plays or so. Those old William Archer Ibsen translations are very Victorian and British, which is not to say they’re worthless, but they’re why I’m doing my own, in an updated American idiom. I kept this book, though, to inspire me.
I don’t want to go through every book we looked at tonight. But every book was meaningful, led to memories and spurred conversations. Books can do that, and not much else can.