Alexandra the Great's Private Papers

August 20, 2007

The Book Store

Filed under: Books,Reading — Alexandra The Great @ 1:28 pm

Because we live in a consumer and sensate age, the grace of intelligence and knowledge appears to be mediated through the consumption of goods.  Though I resist its pull, I too am infected with the virus of consumerism and though on guard against its symptoms, have to admit that I feel smarter by simply buying a good book.  To read a great book takes time and effort, but to purchase the wisdom of the ages takes only cash or credit.  

As do I, my kids enjoy going to the bookstore.  Their pursuits there are not the same as mine, however.  I love to browse the classics and the music, the all too expensive journals I know I’ll never write it in (I don’t write.  I type.)  and finally the reading accessories.  Bookmarks and reading lights are somehow fun for me.  One day I may actually buy a bookmark and quit using grocery receipts or my husband’s business cards to mark my place.  The kids, always instructed to stay together while I enjoy a cup of coffee in the bookstore cafe, restrict themselves to one aisle.  This aisle has aided several generations of young people to pass the countless hours of childhood summer vacations not by offering the good literature they are told they ought to read, but by offering a large variety of comics.  The favorite comics in my house are Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Spider Man which offer philosophy, fun, and heroics.

Kids are excellent readers, not necessarily for their ability to form words from letters, or from being able to read sentences with a good degree of understanding; but children’s reading excellence is related to their capacity for full immersion.  My kids don’t yet associate books with wisdom.  They may associate books with school and learning, but they have never been tempted to indulge the illusion of upgrading their intelligence through the acquiring of many books the way adults are tempted.  (We really do think we can buy anything, don’t we?)  The capacity for full immersion that makes kids great readers enables them to completely immerse themselves in the world of the book (or the comic) they are reading.  They are able to lose themselves in another world where they become heroes and enjoy new friends until mother calls them to dinner. 

This is the kind of experience that can’t be purchased.  I can buy the book, but as long as I’m content to simply own it I’ll never experience it.  On my shelves sit the greatest books of Western civilization.  I can be content to enjoy the beauty of rows of books, or happy to feel smarter by virtue of the simple possession of paper and print; or I can read them and participate in the Great Conversation, making friends of the great men and women of the world.  The consumer and sensate age may not encourage such participation, but it is a momentary day.  When this day passes we will still have Homer, Dante, the Bible, and probably Dickens. Because so many things are fleeting I will do well to acquaint myself with those things that last.  There are, after all, some things that money can’t buy.



  1. Alexandra,

    Your excellent reflection reminded me of a book that I actually read cover to cover: “Surprised by Joy” by CS Lewis. It has been quite awhile – so I hope I remember his thoughts correctly: Lewis talked about the idea of Northernness as an expression of the sort of joy that he experienced first through his imagination as a child and later as he came to know Christ. It is wonderful and frustrating the way in which we could so easily get immersed in joy as children and how elusive that is to us now as adults. We certainly did not need to purchase that sort of joy as children – it just came to us then, as if from heaven. I too feel something reminiscent of that joy when I run my fingers across the spine and cover of an attractively bound hardback book at the book store (especially the Everyman Editions with the red ribbons). There is a hopeful sort of delirium that I might get lost for a while in the new world between its covers, the way I used to get lost in the fantasy realm within the walnut orchards around my house when I was a child. Anyway, I have ended up with a lot of beautiful unread books on my shelf through this means. – Mr Zzyzx

    Comment by Mr Zzyzx — August 23, 2007 @ 1:44 pm | Reply

  2. Mr Zzyzx,
    I want to congratulate you on reading an entire book. I read many books, but not many to completion. It is not uncommon for me to have 6 to 8 books going at one time and just today the mailman brought me yet another book I had ordered. The trouble with this system is that the newer books push the older books out of memory and they don’t get read all the way through. I too like the Everyman editions but my favorite set is the Loeb Classical Library. I feel so much smarter just holding one in my hand. Feeling smart is the next best thing to being smart but even that is not as enjoyable as getting lost in a book as in a walnut orchard. Blessings to you and I hope you can get lost in a book and attain to that hopeful delirium you desrire.

    Comment by alexandrathegreat — August 23, 2007 @ 5:55 pm | Reply

  3. Alexandra,

    I want you to know that I spent a couple of hours reading my Everyman’s edition of “1984” last night and today at lunch. There is a remote possibility that in a few weeks I will be able to report to you that I have read a second book from cover to cover.

    Thanks for your inspiration.

    Mr Z

    Comment by Mr Zzyzx — August 30, 2007 @ 5:12 pm | Reply

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