Sunday, September 03, 2006
they also serve
For those of us who not only read but USE our books (writing, editorializing, translating, researching ... the verb-parts of reading), there's an unsung group of heroes on our shelves.
They're not first editions. They're not autographed. They don't come in attractive sets with calfskin bindings. They're not even the books we go to for pleasure, in most cases.
But they're essential, and it's high time they were given some of the praise that's their due.
Of course I'm talking about our reference books. That extremely well-thumbed and heavily bookmarked half-shelf to whole-shelf of books we keep not attractively displayed but RIGHT THERE, at arm's length from where we do our writing.
We THINK about all our other books far more often than we do these old workhorses. We move all the others around, change their order for aesthetic reasons. We handle them lovingly and are inwardly proud when our guests do likewise.
The reference shelf is different. Those books seldom get SEEN by guests, much less shown to them. But what they lack in glamor they make up in an intimacy for which all our other books envy them: we handle them virtually every day. I have a very attractive two-volume slipcased "Man Without Qualities" on my living room shelf. I haven't touched it in six years.
I've used my battered American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) three times in this entry alone.
I'm not proposing calfskin and better lighting for these volumes - far from it! They need to be within arm's reach and well-used, because we need them to get our brains fully dressed before we show our stuff to anybody else. That shelf, alone among our books, can't support any peacocks.
What I AM proposing is that we all pause for a moment and THANK these books, these essential props who've taught (and continue to teach) us so much.
So go over to your shelf, if you have one - that particular place (probably near where you work), and jot down the titles, and share them with me and everybody here! Then we can all go back to our Folio Society volumes and our first editions.
The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition
The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 4th edtion, edited by Margaret Drabble
The Oxford Book of English Verse - the Helen Gardner edition
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
The Ocean Almanac by Robert Hendrickson
Tudor England by John Guy
History of the World by J.M. Roberts
Animal by DK and the Smithsonian
The King James Bible
The mighty Oxford Classical Dictionary
The Chambers Biographical Dictionary, both the current edition and the previous one
The Riverside Shakespeare
and the National Geographic World Atlas
These old friends I thank one and all. Now let's hear yours!