Monday, February 13, 2006


I have always hated writing in books. I prefer Post-Its. When necessary, I use pencil or (horror!) highlighters.

I'm rethinking that.

I now own (or am borrowing from my grandmother) three books my grandfather owned and read. One is the Harvard Classics edition of Essays and English Traits by Emerson. The paper's old. I could get better text online for free. But when I look through the essay "Self-Reliance" and see certain sentences marked with parentheses for emphasis, it's like he's talking to me. He died 24 years ago, but I know he read, and he dwelled on:

  • To believe your own thought, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius.
  • It takes a divine man to exhibit anything divine.
  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
  • The virtue most in request [ by society] is conformity. Self-reliance is an aversion.
  • Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.
  • To be great is to be misunderstood.

    I want to buy a new copy just to make my own marks in this great text, a new copy so that I don't overwrite my grandfather's thoughts. To emphasize,
    "Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear the Spartan fife. Let us bow and apologize no more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him: I wish that he should wish to please me."
    And I will leave my book and my grandfather's book on the shelf together until my own grandchild shall someday pull both volumes down and read what I imagine to be a dialogue across generations. A quarter century, and another quarter century. And she will read our marginalia conversation and dwell on it, and maybe she will be inspired to add her own thoughts.

    On a similar note:

    My first gun was a Beretta .22 Bobcat, given to me by an uncle who could barely stand, not even 50, but with a 2% chance of surviving the year. I carried some spent casings in my pocket for luck.

    He survived.

    Now he's back to his wily old self. He "lent" me his dad's shotgun, a Merkel over/under, insisting that it was a loan until his kids get interested in guns. The gun belonged to the same grandfather who read and wrote in "Self-Reliance." I know my uncle's kids - they don't like guns. My uncle just didn't want to call it a gift. It's a tough object to part with, not just for the monetary value, but knowing - "this gun was my fathers', I used it in my sporting days, and now I pass it on to the next generation." Now he complains that when he's well enough to go duck hunting, he won't have anything to shoot. I say, "yeah, that's a problem, you should get a shotgun or something," and leave it at that. :)

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