Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.
Man does not live by bird alone.
There must also be books.
And the freedom to read them.
John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, preaching promiscuity?
Who am I to disagree?
If you want to understand what someone writes.
It helps to know what they read.
I begin my days at the Athenaeum by reading the Psalms, not because I am religious.
But because every major British writer knew them well.
And their works reflect that.
How is one poet affected by reading his predecessors?
My doctoral work at Brown University addressed this very question.
By focusing on the influence of John Milton.
As did my subsequent scholarly research.
OK, I admit it: I read around.
I used to be a one-book-at-a-time guy.
But Boston has been a very bad influence.
No more literary monogamy, I’m afraid.
A year ago I was sitting at my desk at the Guardian.
Catching up on the Blonds Across the Pond.
I promised myself one thing, above all:
When I could stop reading what I hated.
I would take especial pleasure in reading what I loved.
At the Athenaeum, I wander physically so my mind is free to roam.
I start on the fifth floor.
Which is lovely.
I just finished The Founding Fathers last week.
And started The Age of Jackson this morning.
The author, Arthur M Schlesinger Jr, was famous for his bowtie.
Last week I was sitting on the grass at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Looking for the hooded warbler.
Suddenly, I saw this.
It’s what our minds do.
After I finish on the fifth floor, I walk down to the fourth floor gallery.
And this comfy chair.
Pro Tip: Use the stuffing for a bookmark!
You can’t beat the view.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Roman Forum, and its archaeological history.
I want to prepare for my next visit.
My last one was in 2018.
And my first was in 1969.
The place has always gripped my imagination.
I need to roam there again.
With the ancestors.
After my Roman reading, I go down to the second floor.
A yellow-throated warbler!
Whenever I read, I look for literary connections.
A good example: In Evelyn Waugh’s story Charles Ryder’s Schooldays, I came across the following passage.
So I thought, “I need to check this out!”
And it was right behind Nathaniel Bowditch.
Through the door.
In the stacks.
I finished it today.
And found this baby.
Which will be next.
Of course, I don’t neglect reading in the Lair.
After finishing The Founding Fathers, I thought it might be a good idea to reread this.
Here’s some good news for all you youngsters:
Your books will increase in value as you get older.
Because you won’t ever remember reading them!
This evening I will continue my latest Lair reading project:
Balzac’s Human Comedy.
The whole thing.
On the divan.
Then bright and early tomorrow, it’s back to the birdies.
Give me the strength!