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when i feel myself flagging

February 24, 2009

[NYTimes] Stout began with his favorite quote from Balzac: “I seldom go out but when I feel myself flagging I go and cheer myself up in Pere Lachaise … while seeking out the dead I see nothing but the living.” […]

Scanning the bookshelves of others is a favorite pastime, and sitting here canvassing my own makes me fully understand why Stout recently left his San Francisco house to move into a warehouse: he wanted to be surrounded by not just some but all of his books, to feel among the living. As one who has lugged an ever-increasing number of boxes of books from apartment to apartment, city to city, unable to part with nary a one, I feel the same way.

Stout’s presentation was so inspiring yet so bittersweet because his vocation seems entirely of an era that is passing us by. For centuries we’ve looked to libraries as historic evidence of cultured civilizations: will electronic texts fill that bill for future generations? While I’ll admit that I’m intrigued by the Kindle, it will never replace the rows and stacks of books that crowd my house. And when I first settle into my comfy chair ready to read with that new device, I’ll probably feel as if I had a phantom limb — I’ll mourn the absence of my fingers slowly turning the pages. (read article)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2009 5:22 pm

    oh this is wonderful, reminds me of the beautiful benjamin essay about unpacking his library:
    “Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood–it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation–which these books arouse in a genuine collector.”

  2. February 24, 2009 6:39 pm

    so perfect antonia, thank you.
    i have a friend Nicky who, when he closed down his bookstore, moved into a warehouse space. his walls are lined with bookshelves three deep, the space filled with more, one squeezes carefully down the little paths that remain. at the back is a cluttered desk piled high with more books, around the corner from there a mattress on the floor as bed and a hot plate as kitchen. and you know each of those books Nicky knows and can tell you a story about, like reminiscing about old friends….

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