“We look over with a sigh the monumental libraries … The inspection of the catalgoue brings me continually back to the few standard writers who are on every private shelf; and to these it can only afford only the most slight and casual additions. The crowds and centuries of books are only commentary and elucidation, echoes and weakeners of these few great voices of Time.”
“I find certain books vital and spermatic, not leaving the reader what he was; he shuts the book a richer man. I would never willingly read any others than such.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have often felt this way. I sometimes find myself panicking on how relatively few books I’ll read in my lifetime. Just do the math: if I read ten a month, that’s 120 a year, times another fifty or sixty years. It’s a very small number when put in that perspective.
But really, I do not need to read every book. Emerson’s reminder is comforting to me for that reason. And I love shutting a book and finding myself a richer person. While I sometimes read lighter fare or read quickly, I often still find myself a bit changed by having read the book. In some way, the books I choose give me satisfaction and strength.
Some of the great voices of time that I’ve read: Homer (I do need to reread him again), Shakespeare (I often seeing his familiar story arcs in later works), Charles Dickens’ , Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.So many of the poets I’ve been revisiting this month for poetry month. Poets just do such a great job of capturing emotion and changing me in a short space.
Which authors and/or works are on your private shelf (an imaginary shelf is fine)? Which voices are “the great voices of time” for you?
Reading Reflections is an occasional feature in which I comment on an article or essay about reading. (I haven’t posted one for more than a year, but there is no reason I cannot begin again, right?)
The above quotes are from an essay called “Books” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted on pages 13-14 and 15, respectively, of Reading in Bed, edited by Steven Gilbar.