Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Evantine Order for the Very Calm Life: Rule Five

Mammon, unclaimed by any responsibility perceived by thy wife, shall be found in sufficient quantities in thy wallet upon entering a book selling establishment.

As the Scriptures say, "Money answers everything. While most Americans would freely chorus that loads of money would contribute to the Very Calm Life as they imagine it to be, this rule is about the "thing" purchased while remaining guilt free. We mentioned last rule that "pretty and lusty" was not a grant for totalitarian control. Still, in order to keep the pretty one in your marriage free from temptation to be contentious and fretful, we must not spend the children's milk money on books. But books are the point. The residue of a civilization is in these magical things.

Think for a moment on how perfect the needed interface between centuries is solved by the phonetic alphabet (Peace be upon the Phoenicians) , the invention of movable type (Peace be upon Gutenburg), and the sewn signature codex. Computers are a tool to that glorious end but they cannot compete for kingship in the interface. Sure all of this and more is on the Internet, but let's be frank, it isn't yours until you print it out. Then what do you have? A pile of paper, that's what. Your portion, your pillage of the Past is not to be had for keystroke, log in, and laser printer. The selection in your personal library announces the measure of your fief. What did you purchase? What did you want to know and how permanently did you want to have the source of that knowledge at hand to know again? A man or woman is measured to him, herself, and any that enter their library (please tell me you have one) by the collection. Staring down on us are spines declaring information which only years of conversation with the owner of the collection would give you. Do you see Dr. Johnson or Dr. Phil? And it is even more insulting if the second doctor is in hardback (and if they don't know of whom I was speaking regarding the first).

You cannot declare more about yourself and you cannot arrive at that place so declared, without books. Thus it is that the growth and change of your collection must never be hampered by insufficient funds as you stare at the outer door of a used book establishment. Many a wife will measure her best beloved by his checkbook, his knowledge of household appliances, his diligence in career. What those are is a slight momentary read such as a garden thermometer or the weather report for the week. His library, O goodwife, is the climate and the seasonal prospect of the place in which you dwell. Next time you walk into it (having, of course, genuflected at the door), stand a moment in its rich silence, then politely thank them.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

"Peace be upon the Phoenicians...Peace be upon Gutenburg."

I never thought I'd catch you praying for the dead.


Evan B. Wilson said...

You got me.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

ruddy papist

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Also, and more seriously, what do you think of An Experiment in Criticism? Are you not advocating reading poorly? Or at the best, reading aliterarily?

Evan B. Wilson said...

"Advocating reading poorly"?
How did "always have enough money on you to buy books" become "reading aliterarily"?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

My copy of An Experiment in Criticism is in a box. But in it he talks about why people read. Some people avoid reading. Some people read often, but as a time killer--on the train waiting for the bus on the toilet. Some people read to "be cultured". But true readers, readers who read well, read for the literature itself. The book is then about the forth class of reader. But you, it seems, are advocating books for the third reason--not because the book itself is good and enjoyable and meaningful, but because the book is on a certian list of "good books" and because of the gravitas having the book creates.

The quote "The selection in your personal library announces the measure of your fief" summs up your position. You need to have a good fief, to define yourself through the Other you have created, and one way to do so is through the books you display and have read. So read good books that you may have the proper fief.

Spenser or Malory may be improved by book ther are read from. But why does it matter, from a literary perspective, whether I read Sense and Sensibility in a nice leather bound antique, or in a cheap dollar paper back? The words in either are the same. The literature is the same. Collecting books is no more literary than stamp collecting.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

One could also perhaps object to the project of defining yourself through your fief as works righteousness. But that's a different discussion.

weswise said...

Since in the rules of the gentleman it says a man ought to live by his merits and not their advertisements, it seems apparent that the nature of the Order is indeed akin to a very calm life, and should be found applicable to the areas of our life that are then calm- not a measure of the life itself, and not a necessary call to be calm, or a claim to one's right for the calm life; hence the comic sentiments? That's the perspective I got. And I thank Mr. Wilson for those rich sentiments..