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The Book Whisperer

by Michael C. Keith

 

                                                       Books will speak plain . . . Francis Bacon

I can hear the books talking, thought Robin Christopher as he walked by the countless shelves in his personal library. Passing a volume by Robert Frost, for example, he heard, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” Indeed, muttered Robin to himself, indeed.

As he approached a work by Anais Nin, more words of wisdom reached his ears. “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” How true, he agreed, touching the book’s spine affectionately.

 “Ah, my old friend,” said Robin, as he neared a volume by Mark Twain. The former riverboat pilot returned his greeting in the form of one of his favorite lines. “Good friends, good looks, and a sleepy conscience, this is the ideal life.” “Yes sir,” laughed Robin, moving on.

From an upper shelf, came the sound of someone clearing his throat. “Well, if it’s not Mr. George Bernard Shaw, and what do you have to say to inspire my day? “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Robin shook his head in full agreement and continued his sojourn through his archive.

At the end of the south wall shelf came the voice of a man he admired beyond most. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Robin gamely parried with, “And if only one side of the desk is cluttered, it must be a sign of a half-wit. Would that not be the case, Mr. Einstein?” “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds,” came his answer.

How fortunate I am to have so many such friends in my house, thought Robin.

Commencing his stroll along the east wall shelves, he was met by the rhyming of Emily Dickenson. “They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight; smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.” On the heels of the Amherst poet’s final syllable arrived yet another line of winsome verse.

“And, after all, what is a lie? ‘Tis but truth in masquerade,” declared George Byron, and Robin stopped to ponder the adage. “Well, your lordship, I suspect a lie is a lie regardless of its disguise,” he countered. “Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure,” retorted Byron. To which Robin replied, “Not all pleasure is a sin, but I do agree that sometimes we derive pleasure from our sins.”

Next, Ernest Hemingway contributed his two cents. “About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” Robin nodded in accord and moved along toward a Faulkner tome. “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary,” observed the bard of Mississippi. “And one could observe that is where his genius lies,” said Robin, in defense of Papa.

Halfway down the row of books, Robin passed a volume by Jane Austen and to his surprise heard nothing at all. “Why the silence, Jane?” he asked, backing up. “My sore throats are always worse than anyone’s,” observed Mr. Darcy’s creator. Upon her last hoarse utterance, William Blake chimed in. “Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief?” The conversation was beginning to affect Robin’s spirits, so he moved away quickly.

Near the north portion of his bibliotheca, Robin encountered Jean-Baptist Poquelin, aka Moliere. “Of all follies there is none greater than wanting to make the world a better place.” Robin shook his head in growing frustration. “These are not honeyed notions. What is wrong with trying to make the world a better place?” he demurred. To this James Joyce vouchsafed, “There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as being a human being.” Robin sighed deeply and moved with alacrity to the western-most stacks.

Considering the books before him, he wondered what F. Scott Fitzgerald had to offer. “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” Robin groaned as Dante Alighieri took his turn. “In the middle of the journey of life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”

“And you, Mr. Lovecraft, what do you have to add to this dismal discourse?” asked Robin with trepidation. “Bunch together a group of people deliberately chosen to strong feelings, and you have a practical guarantee of dark morbidities expressed in crime, perversion, and insanity.” Thank you for that H.P., grumbled Robin internally, as he shuffled along. His mood had by now reached a new nadir.

He hoped Edith Sitwell would offer a moment’s needed light. “Still falls the rain––dark as the world of man, black as our loss––blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails upon the cross.” Robin whimpered and leaned against the shelf. “Not you, too, Dame Edith?” He had confused Sitwell for Wharton.

Then a wicked chortle caused his body to stiffen. “Lucretius, it’s you,” blurted Robin abjectly. “Life is one long struggle in the dark,” opined the author of the treatise On the Nature of the Universe, which stood inches from Robin’s nose.

As he headed for the door of his library, he was further assailed by quotes from a bevy of notorious penmen. “It is better to be feared than loved,” declared Niccolo Machiavelli. “Death is the solution to all problems. No man––no problem,” asserted Joseph Stalin. “The part of me which wanders through my mind and never sees or feels actual objects, but which lives in and moves through my passions and my emotions, experiences this world as a horrible nightmare,” added Jack Henry Abbott.

“Quiet!” shouted Robin, continuing, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” He threw open the door to his book repository and ran through it. It was the worst day he could recall in his beloved athenaeum, and he prayed his next visit would end on a better note. The irksome sounds from inside the library faded as Robin went to his reading chair and opened the book he had been reading.

“Have one of those days where you just can’t win?” asked Pooh Bear. 


Michael C. Keith is the author of an acclaimed memoir, three story collections, and two-dozen non-fiction books.


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