November 7, 2017
One day years ago I was working in an antiquarian bookshop when a customer came to the desk with a book she had chosen to purchase. She was in her twenties and very well-mannered. During the brief transaction, she told me how gratified she was to have found a book of the kind for which she had been looking. It was a book about birds.
Many customers purchased a handful of books or a box or boxes of books. And that was fine. Some were readers; others were collectors; some were other book dealers; others were book scouts. There was room for all of them within the realm of an antiquarian bookshop that offered secondhand books and rare books in very-good-to-excellent condition.
But that young woman always remained in my memory. She was not a regular customer. But she was so gratified in having found one book. We did not have a long conversation, but I was impressed by her manner and her sincerity. I think she was very wise. It is possible she understood what the Roman statesman Seneca advised two thousand years ago: That it is the quality, not the quantity, that matters.
In a nation oversaturated with books, non-books, fake books, designer books, and puff books, how could the best that books have to offer not be overshadowed, immersed in a sea of junk, undervalued, or not valued at all? Have any people in history been more drunk on excess than Americans are today?
Anthony Daniels wrote:
“A single flower is enough to transport me…. One can never come to the end of the interest of the world…” [Salisbury Review, Autumn 2013, pp. 5-6.]
My sentiments exactly. At various times over the span of seven decades, I too have been prompted to feel that sentiment and curiosity and fascination by the endless mystery of the night sky, or the intricacy of a gossamer web, or the colors of a landscape in autumn.
A single book was enough to transport that young woman into the world of bird-lore, a realm that I imagine could be endlessly fascinating.
Posted by Laura Wood in Uncategorized