by Dick Loftin
Winston Churchill once wrote if you don’t have time to read all of the books you buy, at least be acquainted with them. While cleaning out some bookshelves—to move out some impulsive purchases at book fairs and yard sales—I discovered some lost treasures. It is fun to be surprised by a book you forgot you had. Buried deep in the bookshelf is a forgotten volume, rediscovered like an old friend. “Oh, there, you are!” it shouts to you.
My main interests are history and biography, so finding books that I had purchased months or years ago in the back of a bookshelf was like taking a walk down memory lane. There was, “As I See It,” an autobiography of J. Paul Getty, the great oilman. I learned from Getty that thinking is probably the most important skill to develop in business. Bennett Cerf’s “At Random,” a book about his time at Random House, is a great book about the book business and his relationship with the authors he published. I lost my first copy of it years ago, but was overjoyed to find it online.
There are biographies of the Rockefellers, and a couple of books about the Empire State Building in New York. The Empire State Building was built in the middle of the depression by men glad to have a job and a hand in building an architectural icon. It is quite possibly the greatest building in the world.
I find some political figures interesting. I have several books by and about Richard Nixon, a couple by Eisenhower, there are books on Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton (an avid reader and fascinating figure no matter what your politics.) There are books by and about by JFK, Teddy Roosevelt, and one of my favorites, Harry Truman.
Faith and one’s “inner life” is interesting to me, so I have several books by C.S. Lewis (I found myself saying, ‘Yes!’ out loud numerous times while reading ‘Mere Christianity.’) I have a few by Billy Graham and a collection of Martin Luther’s writings. There is the massive “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years,” by Diarmaid MacCullough, which I was pleased to discover was on the bookshelf of the late Christopher Hitchens.
I have Thoreau’s “Walden,” (who doesn’t?), a sad biography of Edgar Allen Poe, written by Julian Sumons in 1976, called, “The Tell Tale Heart.” I was delighted to find some old book reviews and other clippings tucked inside the book. There was an Associated Press story about the individual who left a bottle of cognac and roses on Poe’s grave in Baltimore, and had done so for 33 years. It is a tradition that continued for decades, but I read in the Wall Street Journal, that the person who held up the tribute to Poe failed to show up for the third year in a row. The “Poe Toasters,” as they are called, now believe this great literary tradition for a giant of the written word, is over.* But, finding the clippings took me back to the time when I bought the book. Try that with a Kindle!
Michael Wallis’ fine biography, “David Crockett, The Lion of the West,” is a great read. Early in the book, Mr. Wallis makes clear, it is “David,” not “Davy” Crockett. I have several of Mr. Wallis’ books. He is a terrific writer and historian. I have Richard D. White, Jr’s., well-received “Will Rogers: A Political Life,” a new biography of the beloved Oklahomans life as a political humorist and writer.
The classic business book by John Kenneth Galbraith on the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which I found at a book festival, is among biographies of Conrad Hilton and the early books of Donald Trump, when he was more interested in real estate than being a celebrity.
I rediscovered various memoirs, several volumes of poetry (Robert Lowell, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stevens) and essays I absolutely love. They come from everywhere, book fairs, flea markets, antique shops, estate and garage sales, and I will haunt every bookstore in every town I visit. I once bought a book by Christopher Hitchens and Billy Graham on the same night. The young lady behind the counter gave me a puzzled look as I paid for them. I had to smile at the irony.
It is very easy to get attached to your books. They are your history. They provide a background and a place for the memories of your life. You remember when and where you bought them, who your friends were at the time, where you lived, who you loved and who loved you. You remember what you thought and how your thinking has changed over the years, quite possibly by the books you read. Your books are about your life as much as the person who wrote it. Your books are your “relivable past.”
Books are quiet reminders of who you were, and could very well represent what you are today. I bought the eleven volume “Story of Civilization” by Will and Ariel Durant when I was in my late twenties, fully intending to begin reading when I was fifty. I’m several years behind schedule. But that is the beautiful thing about books. Even as the years pass, the books remain. And books, better and more reliable than some friends, will wait for you. Whenever you are ready to get reacquainted. Which proves Winston Churchill was a wise man. Very wise.