WHAT DOES A GOOD BOOK GIVE ME? BLOG
Browsing in the Tattered Cover is a situation in which books leap into my arms. It is a strange phenomenon because I'm not aware of how that process works. What happens at the check-out counter is that I am startled at what I am purchasing. “How the hell did I choose that one?” Of course, I never not buy a book that has intruded itself into my life and, the books, all filled with promise, never fail to disappoint.
Example: I went home with a book entitled “1858,” about precursors to the civil war. I had no clue as to why I purchased it; it sat on the floor next to my chair for about 3 months when somewhat bored I started to read it. Wow! It entranced me, I dove into it and learned and learned about the state of the country leading up to the civil war.
Another: “A History of the Reformation,” by Diarmaid McCullough decided to leave the shop with me. A thick thing, ungainly and weighing, it seemed ten pounds, it somehow forced itself upon me. I rationalized that I ought to know something about that major part of history, but the truth is that I wouldn't give a centavo for the topic, but there it was. The book is so convoluted and so requires knowledge of Christianity that I read the damned thing three times, each accompanied by gees, wows and can that be real? I was so impressed by the scholarship and wisdom of the author that I now am going through his History of Christianity. And again, there are gasps of pleasure, excitements, and murmurs of “I never knew that” that accompany the page turnings. Parenthetically, I suspect that I now know more about Christianity than most Christians and many priests, reverends, ministers.
I like war books but when I finish one about the WWII Italian campaign I will start Mark Twain's autobiography. Why? Why do I care about him? It’s the pleasure of knowing him, his life and times.
OK, what do I get from all this reading? Except for the Civil War I have no specific focus; almost anything is grist for my intellectual mill. I even read a history of salt. Obviously, learning outside of socially defined knowledge gives me great pleasure. It thrilled me to learn how Oberlin College students lead a revolt against the fugitive slave law, defying slave catchers who were operating legally with the support of local law enforcement. When I learned about Luther's demands and how the church sold indulgences so dead people could get out of purgatory and into heaven faster than expected I could hardly believe that people killed each other over such disputes. The Reformation lead to sermons and strict rules about sexual behavior and how to manage forgiveness almost split the burgeoning Catholic church. Wow, gee whiz!
I failed, and had to repeat, high school history. None of it, not a bit of it interested me. But, in manhood I became hooked on military history in the army, not because of any army influence but because the Red Cross had a book called “Makers of Modern Strategy,” and I was bored. It taught about the WWI Schliefen plan and Von Moltke's failure to carry it out. I learned how the Japanese naval philosophy lead to Pearl Harbor. I learned why the line of battle in shield war always shifted to the right, and so many other things. It's as if I live in a shadow world in which the reality is obscured by social mythology; but reading lets me know something about the reality which is so different from so called knowledge.
What do I give books? Nothing, but I give the authors my brain not only while the reading goes on but afterwards in thinking about things; ultimately the consequence is a transformation into a different person.
What does a book do for me?
Why it helps me to become quite free
Of the myths and the lies
I have learned to despise
Anything better? Hmph! You tell me.