If you would know what nobody knows, read what everybody reads, just one year afterwards... --Ralph Waldo Emerson, who turned a spry 213 years old on Wednesday
|Ralph Waldo Emerson|
As a reader, I don't think I'm that hard to please, despite the fact that so many of the ARCs I pick up can easily be put down again. Of course, there's never been a chronic shortage of putdownable books. Consider Henry David Thoreau at his caustic best in 1854:
Or that other legendary reader of Concord, Emerson. He estimated that in 1858, the number of printed books in the world might easily exceed a million volumes. Seems a manageable number now, doesn't it? He also wrote of the challenges inherent in tracking down a great new read:
I work in the book trade, where titles of every description and quality are the key to survival for publishers and booksellers and writers. Too many of the ARCs I sample, "buffet reading" 50 pages or so, just don't connect. ("It's not you; it's me." Sometimes that's the reason. Not always.) When someone asks me to recommend a new book that "you really loved," and I haven't read anything recently that genuinely qualifies, I can't lie about it. Is the art of reading too sacramental for deceit? Probably not, though it does often feel that way. As a bookseller, I was no literary shaman, but I tried not to be a hinky used car salesman either. If a book really got through to me, my longtime patrons could hear the enthusiasm in my voice, just as they picked up on the slightest inflection when a recommendation was hesitant.
|Emerson's study at his home in Concord, Mass.|
Once upon a time, I thought I could find everything I needed in Emerson's works, turning to them as other people leaned on astrology or the I Ching, seeking counsel, solace or wisdom, whatever was needed. I even fantasized about living in 19th-century Concord, accepting invitations to dinner with Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, maybe a surprise visit from Margaret Fuller. Gradually, however, I realized that given my working-class heritage, I would probably have been serving them soup.
Emerson did, however, create my ideal job description:
Professor of Books. Maybe that's what I became after all--in a sense... nontenured. Thanks, R.W.E. And happy birthday.
--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2763