Emerson in Reading in Bed

“Books” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries, in a thousand years, have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom.”

“…[S]ome charitable soul, …would do a right act in naming those [books] which have been bridges or ships to carry him through the dark morasses and barren oceans…. private readers, reading purel for the love of the book, would serve us best by leaving each the shortest note of what he found. There are books [worth reading]; and it is practicable to read them because there are so few.”

“College education is the reading of certain books which the common-sense of all scholars agrees will represent the science already accumulated.”

“As whole nations have derived their culture form a single book- as the Bible has been the literature as well as the religion of large parts of Europe…. [P]erhaps, the human mind would be a gainer, if all the secondary writers were lost- say, in England, all but Shakespeare, Milton, and Bacon…”

“Nature is our friend in this matter. Nature is always clarifying her water and her wine…. There is always a selection in writers, and then a selection from the selections…. Time, who sits and weighs, and then years hence, out of a million of pages reprints one…”

Ah. So Emerson is saying that any book reprinted is chosen as a better book than one not reprinted. I think this applies to his time.

“In contemporaries it is not so easy to distinguish betwixt notoriety and fame.”

And this is why I think the reprint only refers to his time. In our time, those books which are reprinted are the best of the millions printed each year. But they are not necessarily the best of all the books of the decade or the century. Certainly they are not the best books of the millenium.

Would you put Terry Pratchett and Stephen King up against the other great authors of the millenium and say, “They too are worthy.” I certainly wouldn’t. And notice that I didn’t even include MY favorite authors. I don’t think they’ll be worthy either. I simply think they are the best out of the decade in which I am reading them.

It might be interesting to know that out of all the books I read in the two years of my high school, the only ones which I still own/remember reading are Here I Stand: A Biography of Martin Luther, Nevil Shute’s An Old Captivity, and Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart. I read many other Mary Stewart and Nevil Shute books and I vaguely remember that I thought they were good. But these two were engraved on my high school soul and meant a lot to me. When I recently came upon a hardback copy Touch Not the Cat at a library booksale I bought it.

Not every well written book is a lifetime keeper.