Monday, December 31, 2012

`I Would Set Up My Tabernacle Here'

“And you, my midnight darlings, my Folios! must I part with the intense delight of having you (huge armfuls) in my embraces? Must knowledge come to me, if it come at all, by some awkward experiment of intuition, and no longer by this familiar process of reading?”

Fortunately, no. My books wait patiently, half-formed as they are without someone to read them. Is a book on a shelf like a tree in the forest? Can it make a sound without a human partner? A book unaccompanied by eyes and hands is resolutely mute, a sentiment shared by Charles Lamb in “New Year’s Eve” (Essays of Elia, 1823). Only as we read does a book come to life. 

“No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference,” Lamb reminds us. As of Sunday, three people asked if I had made my New Year’s resolutions. On learning I had not, one half-accused me of sacrilege, but I’ve always thought resolutions were a mug’s game, evaporating like frost on the window with the rising of the sun. I’ve reconsidered. One resolution I’ll keep private, as being both too mundane and too important. The others by their nature are bookish, appropriate to the venue. 

I resolve not necessarily to reread fewer books, as I’ve done with growing frequency in recent years, but to read worthy books from the past I’ve never read or those started but left unfinished. Among the former is Murasaki Shikubu’s The Tale of Genji, which is daunting less for its bulk than its immersion in Heian culture. Among the latter is Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, where I’ve previously only hunted and pecked like a distracted chicken. 

My third resolution is one I make silently every day, and that is to write better, with more concision and fewer lazy patches where I trust the first, easy words. Put it this way, in the form of  a writer’s Golden Rule: Let me write so as to craft something I would enjoy reading, which bears a familial resemblance to the resolution I’m keeping to myself. Give Lamb the last word: 

“I am in love with this green earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here.”

1 comment:

Gary said...

Thanks for another year of the best-written literary blog. Your willingness to give us all something good every day of the year is a blessing. Happy New Year!