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There is nothing like books; – of all things sold incomparably the cheapest, of all pleasures the least palling, they take up little room, keep quiet when they are not wanted, and when taken up, bring us face to face with the choicest of men who have ever lived, at their choicest moments.

As my walking companion in the country, I was so UnEnglish (excuse the two capitals) as on the whole, to prefer my pocket Milton which I carried for twenty years, to the not unbeloved bull terrier Trimmer, who accompanied me for five – for Milton never fidgeted, frightened horses, ran after sheep or got run over by a goods-van.

Samuel Palmer, letter to Charles West Cape, 31 January 1880.

 

Books admitted me to their world open-handedly, as people, for the most part, did not. The life I lived in books was one of ease and freedom, worldly wisdom, glitter, dash and style. I loved its intimacy, too – the way in which I could expose to books all the private feelings that I had to shield from the frosty and contemptuous outside world. In books you could hope beyond hope, be heartbroken, love, pity, admire, even cry, all without shame.

No author ever despised me. They made me welcome in their books, never joked about my asthma and generally behaved as if I was the best company in the world. For this I worshipped them. I read and read and read – under the bedclothes with an illegal torch, surreptitiously in lessons with an open book on my knees, through long cathedral sermons, prep, and on the muddy touchlines (‘Kill him, Owen’) of rugby pitches, to which I was drafted as a supporter.

Jonathan Raban, For Love and Money (1987).

Books are really quite the ideal companion, aren’t they? They hold in them whole new worlds of possibilities, and of dreams and ideas where we can lose ourselves into, without having to risk life and limb over, nor  having to fear failure and disappointments.

I definitely agree with Palmer on all the virtues attributed to books, except that I’ll have to differ on the part where he thinks they take up little room. Maybe he had a really large mansion back then, and so the space taken up by his books were small in proportion to the space he had. That, unfortunately, cannot be said the same of me. :p

 

Of all the inanimate objects, of all men’s creation, books are the nearest to us, for they contain our very thoughts, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to truth, and our persistent leaning towards error. But most of all they resemble us in their precarious hold on life.

Joseph Conrad, Books (1905).

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6 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On The Virtues of Books

  1. Books are dependable and so very non-judgmental, too. Those quotes are great–especially the second one. I agree with you about the space thing, though–that doesn’t seem to be the case in my house. I was thinking maybe I just have too many, but then again….. naw!

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    1. Yes, books are great in that they are so dependable and non-judgmental. Like a good old trusted friend whom we can turn to whenever we want. And you’re right, one can never have ‘too many’ books, can they? 😉

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  2. Lovely quotes, and I agree, there is nothing like books… bu,t like you, space is always a problem. always think one can never have too many books, but there’s a poin t at which they take over!

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    1. Hi Christine, thanks for dropping by! Space is always the issue, isn’t it? That and time. They always seem to fall short in meeting the demands of our ‘too many’ books! Sigh…

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  3. Books are my friends–always have been, always will be. Like you, though, I find they do take up a good deal of space! I try to be discerning about which books I keep so they don’t take over completely. It’s good to have my friends around me, and what could be more interesting than a room furnished with a good selection of books? You can learn so much about people by peeking at their libraries.

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    1. Yes, space is always an issue, isn’t it? I am learning to be more selective and discerning too in my choice of acquisitions. Just like how one ought to be discerning and selective of one’s friends, I guess. I love peeking at other people’s libraries too, and forming all kinds of impressions on who their owners might be. 😉

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