It is Such a Relief to be This Old

Books Today, Just Books, No Ageing


A friend said to me in an email that a certain non-fiction book is one of a shelf full that makes you understand why books have mattered for so many thousands of years.

People who are life-long readers instantly understand the truth of that. Which, of course, doesn't mean everything we read is so profound as to evoke such recognition.

But it sent me scurrying through my own shelves to track down a book I had set aside some years ago, The Book Lovers' Anthology, from the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

It is a compendium of quotations about books and about reading from more than 250 authors through hundreds of years. One of my many favorites is this:

”The advice I would give to any one who is disposed really to read for the sake of knowledge is, that he should have two or three books in course of reading at the same time. He will read a great deal more in that time and with much greater profit.” (Robert Southey)

True. True. True. Except that too often it takes so long for me to get back to one I've laid down for another I am eager to begin that I must start over. Right now there are – among the ones I can easily locate:

Wild Nights - Benjamin Reiss
City of Dreams - Tyler Anbinder
If Our Bodies Could Talk - James Hamblin
Weirdo Parfait - (friend of TGB) Brenda Henry
The Lonely City - Olivia Laing
The Genius of Judaism - Bernard-Henri Levy


When I was a little girl, younger than school age, on Sundays my father read the funny papers to me. As he did so, his finger followed the words and I remember still the exact moment and the thrill when I could suddenly read one of the word bubbles without his help.

Since then there has been no stopping me. Here is how Samuel Johnson explains the lure of reading, from the Bodleian anthology:

”It is difficult to enumerate the several motives which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to any other action, serves at one time or another to stimulate a reader.

“...but the most general and prevalent reason of study is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent of the hour or the weather.” (Samuel Johnson)


It has been clear from the beginning of this blog 13 years ago that TGB readers, or at least those who comment, are readers too and I suspect you will enjoy a few more quotations from the Bodleian:

”Much reading is like much eating, wholly useless without digestion.” (Robert South)

”In hours of high mental activity we sometimes do the book too much honour, reading out of it better things than the author wrote, - reading, as we say, between the lines. You have had the like experience in conversation: the wit was in what you heard, not in what the speakers said...

“Our best thought came from others. We heard in their words a deeper sense than the speakers put into them, and could express ourselves in other people's phrases to finer purpose than they knew.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a king who did not love reading.” (Thomas Macaulay)

Today's headline notwithstanding, I can't end this without one good bookish reference to ageing:

”Alonso of Aragon was wont to say, on commendation of Age, that Age appeared to be the best in four things; Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, old authors to read.” (Francis Bacon)



True, true, true!!!

This is truly a feel-good post, Ronni. Had to laugh out loud at the young woman in her "room of books." Yes, a life of reading has been wonderful and, yet, I've known people who have almost bragged about not ever having read a book clear through! Amazing to think about for a book lover.

Yes! My apartment is strewn with books. My closet shelves are bulging. I also have started to read from several at one time because I have different mood needs at different times.

And I was just telling someone how my dad used to read the funnies to me.
He would stretch out on the couch and I would stand at the end where his head was and look over his shoulder as he read.

My mother was also a great reader and we used to walk to the library which was at least
three miles away. My little brother rode in the stroller, but I had to walk and we would
stop and rest at a little park that was about midway.

When I was in grade school I had the run of our small-town library, where the understanding librarian would let me run a tab for overdue fines. I usually had two or three books going at the same time, and found it hard to get them back on time.

When I was a child I would head to the branch library in my neighborhood as soon as it opened on Saturday mornings. Since at that time a child was limited to only two books to take home, I sat in the window of the library to read the other books that I wanted to read but couldn't take home. My mother would call the librarian at some point to inquire if I was still there, and if so, to let me know that lunch was ready. After lunch I would head back to the stack that Miss Williams, the librarian, had put aside for me, and I would stay happily reading until the library closed in the afternoon. Still a reader always surrounded by books and a great fan of public libraries.

I did not like to read growing up because I read slowly and school had deadlines and tests at the end of the book. But every summer, my younger sister (an avid reader) picked out a book for me and I read it at my own pace and always enjoyed it. In college, I took a literature course, (I was a Zoology major) and connected with the teacher and have been a steady reader for the past 40 years. I am not afraid to start a 1,000 page book- no deadlines, no tests.

Lovely post and lovely comments. I especially loved the photo of the reading pussy cat.

Both my parents were avid readers and both expressed how painful it was when they could no longer read. Dad subscribed to books on tape until he died at 97. I didn't keep many of his things but do have his precious library card. When he died he asked that people donate to a library. Mom took us to the library when we were very young and I let my oldest daughter walk alone the 4 or 5 blocks to our library when she was 5 much to the distress of a friend who rarely read. With "new eyes" i look around and see that books are piled around my living room on almost every surface including two that are going back to the library today.
I loved the pictures. I have a favorite of my granddaughters reading; she's sitting under the bras in a local store while I shopped.

greetings from a house so overloaded with books that they inhabit every single room but the kitchen [and there are cookbooks there, come to think of it]. Huge, teeming bookcases. A table in the living room so overladen with books that occasionally they rebel and - seemingly on their own - tumble to the floor.

I am in the midst of winnowing now, terribly painful. But sooner rather than later, I need to move, and I cannot take all of these with me into a place that will definitely be smaller. And the sad fact is that, at least at this moment in the Twin Cities, most of the second-hand bookstores have either folded or are not able to take on more books. I also have the problem of lots of academic books, not textbooks so much as works related to my own work. In fact, I got out of bed this morning - a bed in which my first look at anything when I wake up falls upon two huge bookcases [plus two smaller ones against other walls] - and began to move out some books to get rid of, without reflecting over each one [or at least I tried to].

But speaking of books AND ageing: I am completely smitten by two British writers I got introduced to in recent years, Jane Gardam and Penelope Lively, both well into their 80s [or beyond?] -- Jane Gardam's trilogy, which begins with an odd-sounding title of vol. 1, Old Filth -- is completely enhancing me. And Lively - in her fiction [above all Moon Tiger] or her autobiographical writings [Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time] - is beyond perfect. Just so you know.

Ah, books. Pretty much my life.

I, too, am now facing life without being surrounded by my books on shelves, tables, etc. A serious downsizing means I will have no room for them in my new home. I thought long and hard about why I have always had so many books: nostalgia, self-image, wanting to support authors, habit. I will use the library now, and I can use Kindle on my iPad. I felt actual pain letting the books go, but life goes on. Truth is, I did hang on to a few.

Oh yes, and my Dad read the funnies to us the same way. Every time I've downsized I've let some books go and then missed them so much I bought some of them again. I still have my grandmother's set of Harvard Classics am reading "Two Year's Before the Mast" for the first time.

Oh, Ronni, This is the best TGB entry ever! (Well, I discovered you only about 6 months ago, so of course I've missed many years of your writings, some possibly even better than this one.) You are a treasure, your words are a treasure, and this blog spoke directly to my heart and soul, not to mention body and spirit. The body, you may ask? Yes, even my body is better: healthier, energized, even sometimes pain free when I am engrossed in a book. Or reading your blog. Thank you for your insight, wisdom, humor, irony, intensity, passion and love. Oh and your incredible ability to select just the right things...

I was a voracious reader as a child. It probably started with the Sunday funnies. There was a radio program where the man read the funnies aloud and I'd spread them on the floor in front of the radio and follow along. A few years later, in the summer, I spent many days at the big downtown public library (Oklahoma City summers were hot and the library was air-conditoned; my home was not). I always went home with a stack of more books to read. In grade school they gave awards to the student who read the most books over the summer -- and I usually won. I read in bed at night under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep. I'd have a book in my lap at the dinner table.

As an adult, I read less and less for pleasure because my job involved intense reading all day. Not only was I tired of reading in the evenings, but it got so I couldn't read anything without looking for typos and other errors instead of enjoying the book. But as soon as the grandkids were old enough to read or be read to, I started giving them books -- the loveliest hardcover books I could find. I wanted them to appreciate real books as much as I did at their age ... before their computers and tablets took over.

I too am a bookaholic. Wonderful books everywhere here in our three story condo. We will move in about three years, and even now just contemplating moving or discarding my books is truly awful. I grew up with small bookcases almost everywhere, and today I still have my grandmother's big bookcase and my mother's long bookcase. I've added long bookcases of my is 12 feet long that I use for a headboard.

No matter my circumstances, I still have most of my books. Some I lost in a fire, and slowly I replace the exact editions. Just yesterday I found Ellsberg's "On the Bottom." I volunteer at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop in Point Loma their book lady. I find some great reads there too. After doing that job for years, I'm still thrilled to go in to work.

Thanks for this book entry. Can we have more of them?

Oh, the anticipation of a new book. The cover, the font, the crisp pages, and most of all the story itself. As an avid reader from a young age, I have chosen books by genre, author, and popularity on various lists. Always finding something to keep me with several books going at once.

Belonging to two book clubs has broadened my reading horizons. I used to read just about anything. Now it's Too many books, so little time - so I am more particular.

The first word I read was LOOK from the Dick and Jane series. What a lifetime of enjoyment books have brought me.

Thanks for today's post.

Love that book reading cat photo!

Cats and books go together, like coffee and Timbits.

If I lined up every book my mom read, the trail might stretch from Montreal to Mexico.

Mom read everything to us while we were young, and would pause to remind us what the moral of the story was and how it connected with us.

A big stack of used books is on my loading dock, awaiting our next road trip. I like to buy them for a dollar each, and then trade or donate all the way to Florida.

I put little notes inside the books.

Just added Hoopla to my iPad. It's a free app from my library that allows you to download all kinds of books, movies, documentaries. This will be good backup for non-road trips, where suitcase space is limited.

Sometimes I park at the pier and read.

Sometimes I ghost drop books at malls or movie theatres.

Maybe someone will pick the book up and become a reader.

Love the ghost dropping books, I'm going to do that too! Yes, books are good friends. The term ghost drop is so pleasing. I've done this here and in other countries with very small pieces of art on heavy stock. And now books...............I so love new ideas, and this blog is usually full of them.

Terrific post and comments. I'm still a reader--always have been. When we moved to our current residence 3+ years ago, we HAD to downsize and I got rid of many cartons of books. I brought some with me, of course, which will need to be donated to Goodwill or recycled at some point. BTW, Goodwill is a great book recycling source. I can buy them there for $1-$3, keep them as long as I want to, donate them back for others to read and contribute to a good cause--it's a win-win.

LOVE the cat!!

Hello Ronni
I've been reading your blog for many years but never posted until today. I was blessed to be a librarian for close to 30 years at a public library. Truly I felt like I never worked a day in my life. How many people can say that?
I have loved reading my entire life thanks to two parents who valued having library cards as much as they did driver's licenses.
I often joked that I have used reading the same way other folks use alcohol and drugs. The habit has made it possible for me to weather a lot life's challenges and problems.

I have a couple bookmarks waiting for me to pick up when I finish Bible Study lessons. My old eyes give me more time here than the printed page.

Books, yes, books. They were a life-saver during my growing up years as life was (shall we say) tumultuous. I climbed into a book at about the age of three and have not yet completely emerged. We moved around a lot and when I reached a new school, my first act was to make friends with the librarian. You were - and undoubtedly still are - sainted ladies who appreciated a youngster who read books.

As with the others, my home is crammed with books. Yes, there is an overflow, hard to escape that. But when the local old folks home seemed to downsize (!) its library, and no longer accepted private donations, I found the local VA hospital was happy to say "yes, we'll take 'em."

Again, I'll add my thanks to you Ronni for this post. It hit a happy note.

A long-term stiff neck from rheumatoid arthritis has kept me from reading my usual 2 books a week for 2 years now. I'm not interested in Kindle or in books on tape, but have finally figured out a system to prop the book high enough to read a few pages at a time. It was a terrible loss to me, so I'm now ecstatic to have read 2 1/2 books in a few weeks. I want to re-read many of my 600-book (mostly nonfiction) collection (in a teeny-weeny apartment). as well as some new ones that have caught my eye. I'm one of those kids who would ride my bike 4 miles to the local library, take out 4-5 books and have read one by the time I got home (Illinois corn country--flat, straight roads, no traffic). Since this one lifetime (I'm 84 & 10 years past my warranty, according to my doctor) won't be long enough to read and re-read them all, I'd be very interested in reading lists of favorites--old and new--from your readers.

What a fab subject. Just my cuppa tea. My undying thanks to my family of avid readers who in the late 40s, took me to join the library. I haven't stopped since: many times I've had to downsize and somehow the books creep back. I can hardly get into bed for my books to read book box and I have loads on the Kindle to enjoy too.

Thanks Ronni for your choice today.

I can't remember the time when I didn't have at least one book going. My grandmother used to push me to go outside and get some sunshine and I resisted because I didn't want to put the book I was reading down.

I am grateful for my Kindle because holding a heavy book would tire me to the extent that I wouldn't be able to read for long. I take my Kindle with me wherever I go and read when I have to wait for someone or for my doctor. It enables me to be able to read in bed and I do that every night.

To not be able to read would devastate me now and my eyes are becoming weaker. I fear the day that macular degeneration might stop me from being able to read.

When I was four or five years old, my mother would take time off from her busy schedule as a 1950's housewife to teach me to read. We sat a the small kitchen table and read together. She had me sound out the letters and the words as we read. This was way before any regular schooling or even kindergarten. By the time I got to 1st grade, I was already reading at a 4th grade level.
My mom, although she herself never finished high school, realized the value of reading.
We started with Dell publishing's "Golden Books" (Lots of pictures with one or two line descriptive sentences) working my way up to the "Hardy Boys" mystery series.
I haven't stopped since.

Many thanks for this post. I don't read as much as I did when I was younger. I'm past 89 now and seem to not have the concentration needed to digest books as I did with a younger mind. Add to this the tendency to nod off every time I get halfway comfortable. I love your stuff so keep up the good writing.

I was 3 when my mom taught me to read, and in the winter in ND, I was either skating or sitting in the stacks in the public library reading everything I could get my hands on. I checked out as many books as they allowed every week, and never had to pay a fine. I still go to the library almost every day just to see what I can find. Thank god for libraries!! And hanks for this post, too, Ronnie. I'll never forget the day maybe 5 years ago, when I realized I could understand James Joyce's "Ulysses." I had finally accumulated enough knowledge to "get" it.

Reading is like breathing to me! I couldn't live without my books nor would I want to!

This was a very enjoyable and satisfying post, and it's gratifying to know what good company is shared here with other bibliophiles. I, too, have more books than I can probably ever read, and I would love to open a used book store like those I enjoy visiting in other places -- cozy, welcoming, smelling like books, and usually with a cat or two or more. (What is this thing with cats and books anyway?) It may never be in the cards, but if the opportunity ever appears, I'll be ready for it.

I never really had books of my own as a child, but loved visiting the bookmobile which parked within walking distance, just a few a few blocks from my house. Poring over the books there, and then taking at least a couple home until the next visit was one of the best parts of summer.

So nice to be in the company of like-minded people. Just about any flat surface in my house is covered with books. I try to thin them out, usually recycle them, and then our local library has another book we go again!!

Another great post Ronni...many thanks.

I don't think anyone has yet mentioned It's one creative way to share some of the books we've all collected over our many years on the planet.

You register your book for free and get a unique ID which you paste into the book. You can then follow it all around the world after you "release it into the wild".

From the website:

BookCrossing is the act of releasing your books "into the wild" for a stranger to find, or via "controlled release" to another BookCrossing member, and tracking where they go via journal entries from around the world. Our community of passionate, generous book-lovers is changing the world and touching lives, one traveling book at a time. We hope you join us!

Nice idea.

My goodness, Ronni, your readers are readers! Who woulda thunk?

I absolutely loved all the houses full of books stories. 8 years ago I moved my house, after giving family heirlooms to my kids, books included, I put 2 storage lockers and a 2 bedroom apartment to good use for several years, winnowing thru books. I spent many afternoons in line at Powells Books ( a huge, wonderful Portland family bookstore) selling back books that my father in law, husband, and I had toyed home. Finally I had to give books to Goodwill- not the good ones, but the ones no one wanted that had to go. Now I'm in a very small apartment sharing a house with my daughter and family, their library has many of my favorite books in it and in my bedroom, where there aren't African Violets, there are books in the 3 bookshelves, on the night stands and dressers. In boxes under the bed...I'm still buying books!

So many happy memories of books and libraries.

So many years of reading and then re-rereading the best ones.

Kindles and iPads are great but there is nothing like holding a real book in your hand and getting lost for hours.

In fact last month I was going through old pictures and I had no idea my husband had recorded my reading --- as I found pictures of me reading everywhere we lived and traveled and in all kinds of positions ---never even knowing I was being photographed.

What would we do without our books! My mother used to marvel (and brag a little) about how good I was in responding to the "It's bedtime" call. I never argued - It was suh a thrill to snuggle into bed with my latest book where I could read as long as I wanted.

A few of you mentioned difficulties with reading due to arthritis. I bought a simple sheet music stand (about $15) that holds the book for me (saving my arthritic hands) at eye level (great for my arthritic neck). All I have to do is turn the pages. I even prop my e-reader on it.

As a little kid I went missing for a number of hours and my panicked mom was about to call the police. Of course I was a few blocks away in the local library, my favorite haunt.

I find books to be one of life's greatest consolations. They console us through times of loneliness and tragedy.

Here's Emily Dickinson:

"There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry --
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll --
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul."

I was such a compulsive reader as a child, I would read the backs of cereal boxes. I would read when friends came over. I would ask for books for Xmas. I grew up with parents who were readers. Dad was a HS dropout but he was always reading. He read 2 newspapers a day and always had a book while watching TV.

I have downsized my books the last 12 years and continue to downsize every year. It's gotten easier since I retired. I borrow books from the library to save $$. If there's a book I really want to keep, I buy it off amazon, sometimes used. I also have a Kindle which has a free lending library and sometimes good deals on books. I bought the Outlander series at a reduced price.

I go to a non-fiction book club at the library every month.

When I think about book lovers, I think about the dystopian film Farenheit 451.

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