To begin with, my title is just a bit pretentious. It’s not as though I have a collection like Thomas Jefferson’s, which he donated to re-stock the Library of Congress after the conflagration of the War of 1812. I had some ceiling damage in my study, and needed to completely empty the room for the plasterers, then, to re-assemble the room -- desk, computer equipment, and a small wall of books. The “library” of my title.
But the process did elicit some thoughts:
1. Although I agree with people wiser and more prescient than I that books will be with us for a long time to come, I couldn’t help the feeling that I was engaging in an almost-quaint activity, like returning a bunch of scrolls to the scrollery. Some writings I wouldn’t think of having except in book form, but for general reading, ten of the last twelve books I’ve purchased have been on Kindle (actually, the Kindle app on my iPhone). When I wonder how long the transition will be, really, from the book to whatever is next, I’m haunted by Benjamin Franklin’s reflection upon first seeing manned balloons over Paris: “This is such a wonder; it will be a mere thousand years before mankind will be traveling by air as a common practice.” The Wright Brothers flew 120 years later, and fifty years after that jet passenger liners were flying from Boston to Paris.
2. I was convicted (if that’s the right word) by the number of books I have purchased and not read, and those that had book-marks one-quarter or one-half or two-thirds of the way through, where I left off reading them. In almost every case, I had thoroughly enjoyed the books that I had partially read, and in almost every case I still want to read those unread. I know that Adult Attention Deficit Disorder is the fad diagnosis of the day, but I wonder….
3. There were so many books that I had read – and with great pleasure. Our re-stocking project was slowed by my pausing to comment, “Oh, this was a good one…” as Caryl waited patiently to hand me the next one.
4. Three of the books, lifted coincidentally from the storage box one after the other, brought to mind a category of “great endings” (which was actually the impetus for this blog post). And, in the spirit of endings, I will end with them:
The ending of A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean:
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.
The ending of The Donner Party, a book-length poem by George Keithley:
After this life we will listen
to the long river running through the soil
saying it is Spring—the sun has begun to burnthe brown needles nesting on the ground
around our graves.The jays perch in the pines and cry
and wherever we may sleep
among the dead we will risetogether under the trees
like men who are set free
from the folly of a dreaminto the fragrant morning
to hear the heavy stream
of our blood begin to sing,our souls awake and warm once moreand weaving like a firewhen the light begins to dance
in the land of our desire.
The ending of The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. (Yes, fellow LOTR nerds, I know it’s not the actual ending. But it really is.)
“Well, here at last, dear friends on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.