Saturday, July 02, 2011

`There Are My Amusements'

In 1784, during his final visit to Lichfield, the city of his birth, Samuel Johnson’s health worsened, and his doctor ordered him to return to London for treatment. For once, because he loved London, Johnson became an uncharacteristically compliant patient. He wrote to Dr. Richard Brocklesby (The Letters of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 4):

“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

D.J. Enright:
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

Jerry Harp:
For Us, What Music? The Life and Poetry of Donald Justice

Madison Jones:
A Cry of Absence

Joseph Pearce:
Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton

C.H. Sisson
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?”

“Yes, m’am.”


George said...

I hope you will write your impressions of Pearce; I thought him unfocused.

mike zim said...

Thanks for that Johnsoniana, of which I was unaware.
This week, another blogger posted the books which were on Updike's desk when he died.

Dave Lull said...

49 Writers: Andromeda Romano-Lax: What They Were Reading -- The Books on John Updike's Desk, 2009: