Some people’s vocation goes on past their own lifetime. Think of what we owe to writers from 3,000 years ago and more. This is part of a conversation between Joy Clarkson of Plough magazine and the writer Alan Jacobs, who is speaking here. The whole conversation can be found here, on the Plough website. It is wide-ranging, we could easily have chosen among many other paragraphs as our appetiser. Today the ongoing work of a writer, perhaps long-dead; tomorrow the work of the visual artist.
There is [a] kind of humble generosity to libraries and books. They’re always ready to accommodate themselves to us. We have so much control over our encounters with books. If a book frustrates us, we can walk away. We can never pick it up again. We can take a book and throw it out the door if we want to. We can put it in the trash or we can just put it on the shelf and come back to it later, or we can just devour the whole thing. At times like that, we feel like we’re so caught up that we’re almost not choosing anymore. But we know at the back of our minds that we really do have some control over all of this and, as a result, it lowers our blood pressure.
And it’s a human connection. A book can be an incredibly powerful conversation partner, but it enables us to deal with ideas in our own way and at our own pace. That’s especially important when the ideas are challenging to us or maybe even offensive to us. We can set a book aside, calm down, and come back to it and think about it and think about what our answer is to it.