All too often, those of us who call ourselves writers speak of the books we read as if their very mention were an indication of our learning, depth, and worth. I speak about them because I love them, knowing full well that even after they are read, I will be at a loss to explain the profound or mean effect they have had on me, my understanding, and my thinking.
I drift with the current. Some facts cling to me like moss. Most, though, glide off and are lost. What I retain, most of all, is a sense of the times and of human thought and behavior. One day, I’m loaded into a cart and hauled through the streets leading to the guillotine; another, I live in Montaigne’s tower, or write Petrarch’s poems to Laura. Never, though, do I kill anyone in a duel. I see that as a good sign.
What’s to be gained by keeping my nose in the 1892 Peale edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica or in Boswell’s Tour to the Hebrides? Why, nothing — nothing at all. If I’m to limit myself to terms of loss and gain, then I’ll be obliged to believe a great many foolish things — even, perhaps, that the past is the past, and the present is mine to control.
From “Between the Lines”
Recently Banned Literature, February 9, 2012
Of Lives and Letters
John Muir, alone in an icy wilderness, listening to the cry of wolves.
Wolves, in an icy civilization, deaf to the cry of the wilderness.
At the bus stop on a snowy bench, a raven teaches genesis.
Do you think me mad? he says. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes . . .
June 20, 2019