A Passion for Books by Dale Salwak (eds.)

By Dale Salwak (eds.)

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And by books I mean books, not words. Les Mots - so talismanic for chatterboxes like Sartre - seemed to me shadowy, fleeting things, until after they were safely sunk into the page, their hooks and uprights and downstrokes absorbed in that thick, breadlike paper that pre-war novels were printed on. Speech, conversation, verbal instruction - all these seemed to me then, and sometimes still seem, imperfect, transitional substitutes for the real thing, that higher mode of communication which was so neatly sandwiched between cloth boards and which did indeed, when assembled in sufficient numbers, furnish a room with their agreeable miscellany of size, colour and pattern.

Am I, I wonder, insufficiently interested in such ideas as works of literature may be said to contain? There are those, and I am among them, who claim that, w h e n it is going at its best, literature sails above the realm of ideas anyhow. 'He had a mind so fine no idea could violate it,' said T. S. Eliot The Pleasures of Reading 15 of Henry James. By that lovely rhythmic formulation I take Eliot to mean not that James was incapable of grasping or of functioning at the level of ideas, but instead that his true interest was elsewhere.

A bookworm, clearly, was in the making. Still, the hook took a while to sink in. I read scarcely at all in high school, and then mainly books about the slums. The Amboy Dukes by Irving Schulman, a novel about a bunch of thuggish kids in Brooklyn, was a much thumbed book in my high school. In print - in actual print in those happily prudish times - it used the word 'jugs' to refer to a girl's breasts. ' Although I was never a good student, the University of Chicago did teach me which were the important books.

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