Dad's Books

... blissfully bombarded and besieged by books

Recently the subject of books came up in a family discussion. Immediately, a sweeping concurring recollection beamed on our children’s faces culminating in the seemingly woeful whispered mumbles of “Yes, Dad’s books!”.

At the end of my senior year in college, when most students exchanged their used textbooks for cash, I decided to keep mine (most of the four years’ supply), and not because I did not need any money. (What student does not need money, let alone a married student?) Yet, I still despised the students who went to the bookstore to exchange their books even for a weensy fraction of the ginormous original prices. The students’ wager was still graspable to me since there’s no doubt that for them - and me - every little bit helps.  But I felt that my textbooks were an extension of myself and my university education; I was not, by the way, planning for any sustained extracurricular reading either. In fact I felt as if I had exhausted my whole reading endowment and tolerance by the end of my four-year pedagogy. To someone who was a double major, one being English, reading was mostly for analytical, cognitive and grading purposes and was therefore not as socially or blithely fulfilling. Today, I feel that same notion has been reacquired and reintroduced to become, again, the norm in my life - erudition first; pleasure and fun second. Just like my Dad used to say, “schoolwork first, play after.”

After college, I sorely needed a new and different course of reading and a break from classics such as The Prince”, The RepublicThe Leviathan” “The Federalist Papers” and a lot of novels and novellas. And though I was able to find some more amusing yet less elucidative material, I still resorted to my college stockpile for some didacticism especially from one particular text. It is the biggest one which I call “the knave” - ironically. It is “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” (Bevington). The voluminous edition exudes intimidation but also - in a subtle but scathing way - injects an inducement of unsavory Old English reading which still can be enthralling and fascinating in countless other ways and application.

I still have the "massive scroll" on the bookshelf - believe it or not.  Much of it is threadbare and has had its share of wear and tear. The pages have become flimsier faded and battered and my scribbled notations in the margins, careless underlining and smeared highlighting have also contributed to the overall physical depreciation of the text.

The literary jewels, on the other hand, still sparkle and emanate "light" from the shopsoiled pages which I occasionally revisit for reflection and illumination. For a pinch of examples, Polonius’ fatherly counsel to his son Laertes (Hamlet), or some political wisdom of Mark Antony (Julius Caesar). Also, Shylock’s (Merchant of Venice) paternal lament for his daughter and ducats (money): “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!"  represents an archetypal obligation and duty of fathers to safeguard their daughters and family wealth - in that order, I hope.

Anyhow my family moved a few times - two interstate and four intrastate - since graduation. During these moves, about thirty percent of the boxes were labeled “books”.  It was a hassle and nuisance to the whole family in lifting and moving them. The boxes were heavy and yet I still insisted on them to be in tow. For some understandable yet inexplicable reasons, I did not want to part with my books.

In our second interstate move, we lived during the first several weeks in an unfurnished house with an exception of a simple decrepit and rickety table in the dining room, apparently abandoned by the previous tenants.  We ended up using it as a dining table, but we had no chairs.  Amazingly, I believe that paucity can sometimes incubate and engender creativity.  We dragged the boxes of books and set them around the table to serve as “boxed-books benches” and depending on the family member’s age and height at the time, the pile was either low, medium or high.

So during this recent family discussion, I brought up the intellectual symbolism associated with the anecdote of the boxed-books benches and how books can and will impact and elevate one’s life and stature. Books can actually lift and raise oneself in inestimable ways.

Surprisingly, however, all that did not necessarily turn or mold me into a bookworm, but rather into a moderate and middle-of-the-road book enthusiast.  In other words, I still have managed to keep things in proper perspective.  As Francis Bacon once said: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”   And if I might add, still other books ought to be shredded, dumped, incinerated or exchanged for infinitesimal cash - though definitely not  “Dad’s Books”.

PS: With Bacon’s quote, it’s interesting how this post now has a thematic and context link - albeit unintended - to the latest post in the Sunday School Cools page (re: “Eating the Word.”)

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