Tired, Sick, Overwhelmed, But Still Reading

Two graduations–one for my son graduating from Wheaton and the other for my daughter graduating from Veritas Academy.

A whirlwind cross country trip from Arkansas to northern Illinois to load my son’s 400 plus books, along with his other stuff, and bring him home for a time.

A beautiful senior piano recital by my daugther TaraJane.

Reviews, recaps, semester tests to make, semester tests to give.

Then after a year of dodging all the seasonal ailments, a cold hits the last days of school.

Nothing really unusual about the hectic, tiring, blessed days of life in this world.  It has been a great month; it has been an exhuasting month.  It has been sad to see the endings–a school year and graduations.  It is exciting to see new beginnings.

Then there are the books.  My summer reading agenda is already overwhelming and exciting.  When I finished A Place to Stand by Gene Edward Veith and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, I knew that my official school reading assignments were done.  Now, I am a free agent.

I look forward to reading and writing about an overwhelming stack of books set aside for the summer.  For now, I want to comment on a few current readings.  Don’t expect much insight or consistency.  Those mental faculties perished during this marathonish month.

 How could I resist a book titled The Man Who Loved Books Too Much?  At first glance, I thought it was probably a fun novel, then I noticed the subtitle:  The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession.  This book grew out of the journalistic work of Allison Hoover Bartlett, the author, who got involved in and then consumed in trying to understand the world of rare and antiquarian books.

That world is fascinating, and for me, forbidding.  The true seller or buyer of valuable antiquarian books would find only a few selections from my library worth considering.  I do own some old books, some first editions, some rare works, and some autographed copies.  But my library is a workshop, not a museum.  I buy cheaply and look extensively for bargains.  The idea of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an autographed first edition of William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished is unthinkable to me.  Okay, I confess, it is not unthinkable, but just undoable.  Yes, I would pay $500 for such a book.  Well, even $5000, but only if I had such money to consider such things.  As a teacher, it ain’t a gonna happen.

But that world of buying and selling the rare, highly expensive books is fascinating.  But beyond buying and selling, there is the theft that is near rampant in such a world.  If people steal expensive works of art, then how much easier would it be to steal expensive books?  If forgeries, lies, and deceit exist in every area of life (even Christian ministry), then I should not be surprised to see it existing in the book world.

Most who steal rare books do so for money.  So, if someone shows up asking $5,000 for a book that is selling for $15,000, that person may be a book thief.  Book sellers, thanks largely to the work of Ken Sanders, the hero of this book, network to watch out for stolen merchandise.  By the way, eBay, which I enjoy, is an easy market for thievery and deceit.  Books or portions of books are filched, tucked away, and then sold to either unsuspecting or uncaring buyers.

But this book focuses upon an unusual book thief named John Charles Gilkey.  What made him so successful was that the books he stole rarely ever showed up again.  He wasn’t stealing to make money.  He loved books.  His idol was having impressive shelves of rare and fine books which would impress the rich and famous.

  Gilkey was well read, but it was the possession of the rare volumes, not the contents, that consumed him.  Sad to say, he was one of the most a-moral, warped, twisted human beings I have ever read about.  I am certain that Nazi henchmen and Communist thugs were worse because of what they did to people, but the total absence of a sense of right and wrong in Gilkey was depressing and appalling.  Maybe, he is just the modern man, the self-defined Nietzschian hero.  But I found him disgusting.  Neither jail time nor well known notoriety have cured him.

In spire of all that, this book was a informative and enjoyable read.

Teaching Particulars by Helaine L. Smith is another book about books.  In this case, it is an enjoyable account of how books can best be used.  It is also about that most daunting task–teaching the joys of literature to students.  Even with my end-of-the-school year doldrums, I found myself anxious to start applying the particular details and overall structure that Ms. Smith uses in this book.  The chapters are devoted to teaching particular works, ranging from the Bible to Uncle Remus to The Odyssey to Flannery O’Connor to Pride and Prejudice and much more.

Every literature teacher needs this book.

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