Here in San Rafael, I am working on the final pass on my book With One Hand Waving Free. It’s the most adventurous so far, set in the late 1960’s, in which Line has her first child and finds herself forced out of Chicago by a growing trend toward violence. Marty goes first to Oxford, England, and then to California, trying to dig deeper into the self she wants to become. And Paul finishes college, deciding that teaching in Fairbanks, Alaska, should be his future.
Outside of editing and housekeeping, I must admit that I’ve reverted to that bookworm I was as a small girl in North Dakota. So many books, so little time? I do have more time now, and more books, aided by the Marin County Free Library which is a ten minute walk from home and where I work two nights a week shelving books.
|Book copied by Poggio Bracciolini|
It’s an extraordinary story, which I am tempted to tell right now, except that it would be better if you, Dear Reader, went out and got a copy of Greenblatt's book yourself. One of the things it describes is how important books have been throughout history, how they were copied and disseminated, and what happens to books in the end. There were actual book worms which contributed to the demise of books. Moisture, fire, neglect. The best way to preserve the early codexes, it turned out, was simply to use them and, when they finally wore out, to make more copies.
Libraries too have always been at risk. Not just from bookworms, fire and fanaticism, but neglect. The library at Alexandria, which had tried to collect the accumulated knowledge of the whole world, simply ceased to be mentioned after about 415 AD when an angry crowd murdered Hypatia, one of Alexandria’s most visible intellectual figures. Rome had many libraries, but when the empire finally collapsed a few decades later, “the Germanic tribes that seized one province after another had no tradition of literacy.” As Greenblatt says, Poggio Bracciolini and his fellow book hunters of the 1400’s were lucky to find anything al all.
The book prompts me to study De Rerum Natura, Lucretius beautiful poem which describes the philosophy of Epicurus. I believe that if I had read it earlier, I would not have been so tempted to look toward Eastern philosophies. Greenblatt imagines that Lucretius was trying to “wrest the truth away from illusion-mongerers. Why should the tellers of fables, he thought, possess a monopoly on the means that humans have invented to express the pleasure and beauty of the world? Without those means, the world we inhabit runs the risk of seeming inhospitable, and for their comfort people will prefer to embrace fantasies, even if those fantasies are destructive. With the aid of poetry, however, the actual nature of things … can be depicted in its true splendor.”