Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

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Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Friday, April 14, 2006

He's a Gass, Man!

The arrival of a new book of essays by William H. Gass is as welcome as the arrival of spring. Like that most looked forward to of seasons, Gass delivers all manner of things fresh and new -- in this case, A Temple of Texts (Knopf, 2006) "speaks to the nature and value of writing and to the books that result from a deep commitment to the word."

As I usually do, I scan the table of contents to see which essay I will sample first. Although "William Gaddis and His Goddamn Books" sounds the most intriguing, I opt instead for "A Defense of the Book," an essay that would probably prompt nine out of ten spouses to ban this book.

At the beginning of the essay, Gass tells of how Ben Johnson's tutor advised him to keep a book "where an ardent reader might copy down passages that especialy pleased him, preserving sentences that seemed particularly apt or wise or rightly formed ...."

Jonson takes the advice. "Ben Johnson collected thoughts he thought right or wise about poetry, about good writing, and, above all, about the management of life." Unfortunately I don't have access to the book, Discoveries (1641) that was created from his pages of observations, but I soon find myself copying some of Gass' thoughts in my own notebook, a few of which I'll share with you :

  • In the ideal logotopia, every person would possess their own library, and add at least weekly, if not daily, to it. The walls of each home would seem made of books -- wherever one looked, one would see only spines; because every real book is a mind, an imagination, a conciousness. Together, they comprise a civilization, or even several.
  • I have rarely paged through one of my dictionaries (a decent household will have a dozen) without my eye lighting, along the way, on words more beautiful than a found fall leaf.
  • In a library, we are in a mind made of minds -- imagine -- all man has managed to think, to contrive, to suppose, to scheme, to insinuate, to lie about, to dream ... here ... within reach of our hand.