“The town is my element, there are my friends, there are my books to which I have not yet bidden farewell, and there are my amusements.”
The passage suggests Johnson thought of his books as a species of friend. He missed them when travelling the way he might miss Boswell, Joshua Reynolds or Hester Thrale. Bookishness carries a taint of anti-social backwardness, a ridiculous prejudice rooted in envy. Johnson was among the most clubbable of men, and a ferocious reader. I haven’t been reclusive, though I shipped eighty-seven volumes from Washington to Texas. With few revisions, the passage from Johnson’s letter suggests my return to Houston and Rice University, and especially my first visit to the Fondren Library, on Friday. I had little time but came with a list. Here’s my first haul:
Robert DeMaria Jr.
Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading
The Alluring Problem: An Essay on Irony
Injury Time: A Memoir
Interplay: A Kind of Commonplace Book
Play Resumed: A Journal
Jan Nordby Gretland, ed.
Madison Jones’ Garden of Innocence
For Us, What Music? The Life and Poetry of Donald Justice
A Cry of Absence
Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton
The Avoidance of Literature: Collected Essays
David Yezzi, ed.
The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets
The librarian at the circulation desk remembered me and I remembered her, and after catching up on jobs and kids, she asked, “So, y’all planning to visit us every day like y’all used to?”