The well-known (and cunning) bibliophile, Mephistopheles, still murmurs in my ear
Author: Miller Hudson - September 27, 2011 - Updated: September 27, 2011
Now that reality TV has found a profitable audience for voyeurs transfixed by the obsessive/compulsive disorders of coupon clippers, packrats and the perpetually jejune, think Jersey Shore and the Housewives of Wherever, there appears to be little shame in forthrightly acknowledging one’s pathologies. In fact, there seems to be a buck in it for nearly everyone. Consequently, I am now quietly biding my time until bibliophiles earn their turn in cable TV’s high definition spotlight.
In many respects, every boy is his father’s son, and, I must confess, I hold mine responsible for the thousands of books cluttering my home and that, until recently, also filled the better part of a storage locker. I like to think of them as my library — a quaint, nineteenth century appurtenance of every well appointed home. Although my Dad was a nuclear engineer, generally not thought of as a literarily inclined profession, he was fascinated by the classics, so editions from the Modern Library arrived in the mail each month as my brother and I were growing up. One of the first lessons I remember learning from my father was how to “exercise” the spine of a new volume in order to prevent it from cracking during later use, or creating a binding slant from front cover to back that develops when you carelessly work your way through a book from start to finish.
I realized his fascinations were outside the ordinary — that my twin brother and I were the only kids in the neighborhood who earned extra money by successfully answering quizzes on assigned chapters from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Martial, Juvenal and Aristophanes. In retrospect, I suspect my father’s fascination with the Stoics may not have provided us with the best primer for young men residing in an American culture that actively discourages any expression of personal emotions on the part of real men. Marcus Aurelius was always there to buck me up and urge me to keep my emotions properly curbed. Several women in my life have grumbled about this lingering propensity, but I’ve attempted to deflect their complaints with grudging concessions to occasionally, albeit briefly, discuss my ‘feelings.’
Our reading lists were leavened with Christian perspective by way of Thomas Aquinas. But, I’m afraid I only waded through Kant and Spinoza for the money. I still possess several of those Modern Library tomes, complete with my father’s marginalia. I skim them occasionally, more to revisit his observations than to reconsider the original texts. It’s hardly an accident that I met my wife at Capitol Hill Books, across the street from the state Capitol. I’ve been a regular customer there for three decades, since my years in the Legislature. It is a great place to kill a few hours at lunch, or between committee hearings. Val Abney, the long time owner, held a New Year’s Day soup and tea ‘sobering up’ party for her regular clients each year.
Cynthia has been her friend since childhood. She attended the 2003 party at Val’s urging. Following a courtship deserving of another column, we were married in what Oscar Wilde termed a triumph of hope over experience. When I sold my house in North Denver, I placed 23 large boxes of books in a storage locker where they remained until just a few weeks ago. Cyn observed that I would need to prune this collection. I am proud to declare that a dozen boxes (that’s more than half, after all) were delivered to Tattered Cover and Capitol Hill Books, where I now enjoy healthy credit lines. I found I had entirely forgotten my 20-volume collection of Presidential papers, from George Washington through Franklin Roosevelt, which I snatched up for $40 at a yard sale. You can read Zachary Taylor’s entire Inaugural Address, the longest on record, and one, which inadvertently killed him after he droned on for nearly two hours during a Washington blizzard. Then BORDERS slid into bankruptcy. Hallelujah!
It was Shakespeare who noted, ‘tis an ill wind that brings no benefit to good men.’ During the first BORDERS downsizing, last spring, I was at their Southwest Plaza store the day a pipe bomb was discovered, but managed to evacuate with a box of 90 percent off knockdowns. I couldn’t resist. In recent weeks I also patrolled the Colorado Mills store for bargains, despite another bomb placed in their ventilation system. I was at the Park Meadows store this week, on its final shopping day, when all remaining books were selling at a dollar apiece. My Christmas shopping for this year is complete. The store receipt indicates that my $30 expenditure provided me a savings of $645. I won’t lack for the comfort of a good book this winter.
Such a windfall has to offer just as compelling a television experience as the feats of coupon wizards, wouldn’t you think? Or, is that merely the well-known and cunning bibliophile, Mephistopheles, murmuring in my ear?
Miller Hudson is our well-read contributing columnist whose articles have appeared on our pages for more than three decades.