Saturday, May 23, 2020

'Not Too Far from Talk, and Not Too Near'

This week the university library began accepting carry-out orders, taking us a step closer to normal, book-handy operations. My last visit to the library and campus was on March 17. Back then I had already requested three volumes from off-site storage that have remained in book limbo ever since. Now it’s like getting Christmas presents in March: A Time in Rome (1960) by Elizabeth Bowen, Style (1955) by F.L. Lucas and the novel Hard Rain Falling (1966) by Don Carpenter. I made an appointment for the pickup, telephoned when I arrived on campus and met a librarian I know at the main entrance. We both wore masks. She handed me a sack of books, we enquired after each other’s health and I drove home.

To those books I added a request this week for an old favorite, Alexander Herzen’s My Past and Thoughts (trans. Constance Garnett, rev. trans. Humphrey Higgens), the four-volume 1968 edition with an introduction by Isaiah Berlin. It’s a work I learned of in high school from Augie March who earned part of his living stealing books for a grad student at the University of Chicago:

“Two volumes of Nietzsche’s Will to Power I had a hell of a time swiping, for they were in a closed case at the Economy Book Store; I also got him Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, as well as the last volumes of Capital from the Communist bookshop on Division Street, Herzen’s Autobiography, and some de Tocqueville.”

Lucas has a knack for aphorism. He accuses De Quincey of “peacock vanity,” then adds: “The remedy? The best I know is simple—it is simplicity. Plain prose, I think, should be not too far from talk, and not too near.”

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