Today on The Literary Life Podcast, Angelina Stanford, Cindy Rollins and Thomas Banks discuss the importance of reading old books. They begin the conversation by addressing head on the idea that old books are irrelevant. They touch on the fact that when we use the phrase “old books” we mean not just any piece of literature from the past, but those which have stood the test of time.
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So, when his Folly opensRudyard Kipling
The unnecessary hells,
A Servant when He Reigneth
Throws the blame on some one else.
I am informed by philologists that the “rise to power” of these two words, “problem” and “solution” as the dominating terms of public debate, is an affair of the last two centuries, and especially of the nineteenth, having synchronised, so they say, with a parallel “rise to power” of the word “happiness”—for reasons which doubtless exist and would be interesting to discover. Like “happiness”, our two terms “problem” and “solution” are not to be found in the Bible—a point which gives to that wonderful literature a singular charm and cogency. . . . On the whole, the influence of these words is malign, and becomes increasingly so. They have deluded poor men with Messianic expectations . . . which are fatal to steadfast persistence in good workmanship and to well-doing in general. . . . Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has no “solution of the social problem” to offer to his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude and his probity. For the matter in question is not, primarily, a “problem”, nor the answer to it a “solution”.L. P. Jacks, Stevenson Lectures
Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.C. S. Lewis
To Walter de la Mare
by T. S. Elliot
The children who explored the brook and found
A desert island with a sandy cove
(A hiding place, but very dangerous ground,
For here the water buffalo may rove,
The kinkajou, the mungabey, abound
In the dark jungle of a mango grove,
And shadowy lemurs glide from tree to tree –
The guardians of some long-lost treasure-trove)
Recount their exploits at the nursery tea
And when the lamps are lit and curtains drawn
Demand some poetry, please. Whose shall it be,
At not quite time for bed?…
Or when the lawn
Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return
Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,
The sad intangible who grieve and yearn;
When the familiar is suddenly strange
Or the well known is what we yet have to learn,
And two worlds meet, and intersect, and change;
When cats are maddened in the moonlight dance,
Dogs cower, flitter bats, and owls range
At witches’ sabbath of the maiden aunts;
When the nocturnal traveller can arouse
No sleeper by his call; or when by chance
An empty face peers from an empty house;
By whom, and by what means, was this designed?
The whispered incantation which allows
Free passage to the phantoms of the mind?
By you; by those deceptive cadences
Wherewith the common measure is refined;
By conscious art practised with natural ease;
By the delicate, invisible web you wove –
The inexplicable mystery of sound.
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
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