The book you see is mine. And thereby hangs a tale ...
In the spring of 1962, when Hiram College accepted me into its freshman class, I was excited. Though not overly so. My dad taught there. Hiram was the only place I'd applied. I figured if I didn't get in (was that even possible?), I'd just, you know, be the catcher for the Cleveland Indians for a coupla decades.
Not long after the acceptance letter, another one from the college arrived: It contained a list of books that incoming freshmen ought to have read. Implication; If you haven't read these, you'd better get cracking.
There were a few problems. I'd never heard of most of the writers. We didn't have many of the titles around the house, but my mom, who at the time was working on her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh (100 miles away!), took the list with her and returned one day with a box stuffed with the books. She'd been to the Pitt bookstore, and if you enlarge the image above, you'll see that the little volume cost her 45¢ at that venue.
I was very grateful for that pile of books--but deeply daunted, too. I knew myself. I knew I was incapable, at age 17, of reading them. So ... I flipped through the pile and found Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. I read it. Loved it. Maybe even wept at the end.
Maybe these won't be so bad, I began to think.
I found another novel (I can't remember what it was), but when Mom saw me reading it, she suggested I take on some of the other titles first. Like, you know, Essays by Francis Bacon. I'm not sure what my reply to her was (I doubt that it was civil), but I didn't read much more--not until the fall was upon me, and I had to read three other books for freshman orientation. I remember two of them: James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and C. P. Snow's The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. (Was the other Dürrenmatt's play The Physicists? Possible. It was published in Feb. 1962.)
I read at least two of those three--but no more of the recommended list for all incoming frosh. (Oh, how I wish I had a copy of it!)
Anyway, a number of those books have remained on my shelf, year after year, decade after decade. They share only one thing: I haven't read them.
Then--as some of you know--we began cataloging our books for sale on ABE, an online book-selling site. (Here's a link to our list--crass, I know; deal with it.) And Essays came off the shelf, had considerable dust blown from its surfaces, and reappeared in my consciousness. Joyce put it on our site, listing it for $18. (Here's a link to that page.) Inflation!
Then Mr. Guilt appeared, once again. And I thought I kinda oughta read it, you know? So I put it among those books I read in bed in the evening--ten pp a night or so. I read just 5/night of the Bacon, though. A bit dense. Full of quotations from the ancients, etc. And, possibly, I was hoping someone would buy the damn thing so I wouldn't have to finish it?
But no. So I finished it. And learned more than a few things--noted some quotations I wanted to remember--some of which I'll share on my blog this coming Sunday--"Sunday Sundries."
I think some more titles from Mom's old Pittsburgh shopping trip remain on our shelves, covered with dust and neglect. When they appear, I'll try to read them. But in some ways I'm no different from that snotty adolescent in the spring/summer of 1962. I want to do only what I want to, dammit! And if things don't work out, if I don't read those books, well, maybe the Tribe could use a back-up catcher?