Ex Libris …
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am apparently to become a grandfather for the first time next month. While others have been considering cots, clothing and misshapen animals, I have been contemplating the new family member’s library. It would certainly be impolitic to shower someone whose interests are unknown with “improving books” (whatever they are), even had my daughter room for them, but four or five entertaining books that can be read at many levels might be acceptable over the years.
Tristram Shandy has to be there, preferably without the copious notes of the Penguin Classics edition. It’s bad enough having Sterne taking one on innumerable digressions without Mr Penguin adding others, enlightening though they be. But the layers are there, depending on one’s reading of Locke. I would also be hypocritical and include Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. I say “hypocritical” because I have never finished it (not that the book itself is finished). Finishing it is my lifetime’s project. I find the same flavour, more woodenly expressed, as in Tristram but its density makes it a black hole. One page of Musil has the same mass as 25 volumes of Sterne and it attracts in all thoughts that come within its range of influence and never lets them go.
I’m not a Shakespearean scholar and understand that my belief that Shakespeare’s most beautiful writing is in Richard II would be considered eccentric by those who are. I wonder whether my taste in Shakespeare is something like my taste in wine: immature and ill-formed (we had supper with neighbours recently who do know their wines and the wine they served was excellent but I would have preferred my own, much cheaper, selection). But I would add Richard (of Bordeaux—the place rather than the wine) to the library.
The need for books with multiple layers of interpretation and my sommeliern shame brought my wandering thoughts to Lakatos’ Proofs and Refutations, another must-have. I bought this soon after it was published and am ashamed that I read it from cover to cover without seeing beneath the superficial layer of some clever counter-examples of Euler’s Formula. It took other writers to make me realise there were deeper layers. But that is good for a new reader.
So how’s this for the basis of a library?
- Tristram Shandy
- Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften (in English translation)
- Richard II
- Proofs and Refutations
- Littlewood’s Miscellany (because it is simply the most wonderful book written and has to be on every bookshelf)
Are the contents of that list necessary and sufficient?
Another challenge from the other end of the age spectrum comes from the front page of today’s Globe and Mail newspaper. It has a picture of a 100 year old Canadian who decided, at the age of 93, to learn to read. He completed the task at the age of 95 and a picture on the front page shews him sitting in a chair reading a book. What should be in his library?