Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spending time with a favorite book ...

Winter has finally given way to spring in these parts (central Ohio) and the damp of a sultry summer is already in the air. Which leads me down the paths of memory to a youth misspent in the company of books.

I have been perusing the Penguin Books Great Ideas series for the last several weeks including Robert Burton's Some Anatomies of Melancholy (that would have been back when the days were short and dark and mood likewise) and William Morris' Useful Work vs. Useless Toil (I'd settle for either in the growing days of my unemployment). But it was Marcel Proust's Days of Reading that struck my fancy this week as the first buds of the pink dogwoods burst from limb.

"There are no days of my childhood which I lived so fully perhaps as those I thought I had left behind without living them, those I spent with a favourite book," Proust writes at the beginning of his famous essay.

"Everything which, it seemed, filled them for others, but which I pushed aside as a vulgar impediment to a heavenly pleasure: the game for which a friend came to fetch me at the most interesting passage, the troublesome bee or shaft of sunlight which forced me to look up from the page or to change my position, the provisions for tea which I had been made to bring and which I had left beside me on the seat, untouched, while, above my head, the sun was declining in strength in the blue sky, the dinner for which I had had to return home and during which my one thought was to go upstairs straight away afterwards, and finish the rest of the chapter: reading should have prevented me from seeing all this as anything except importunity, but, on the contrary, so sweet is the memory it engraved in me (and so much more precious in my present estimation than what I then read so lovingly) that if still, today, I chance to leaf through these books from the past, it is simply as the only calendars I have preserved of those bygone days, and in the hope of finding reflected in their pages the houses and the ponds which no longer exist."

My houses may (or may not) exist on the West Side of Youngstown and the North. But the books of my youth are as imposing in my memory now as they were then. In fact, I've begun to read some of those books again. They include:The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; Watership Down, Shardik and The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams; Siddhartha by Herman Hesse; The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling.

So, a toast to the first days of spring, the old books that will become new again, and friends as yet unmet.