Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A quote of the day

I feel a bit conflicted about quoting an article by Michiko Kakutani, she of the sharp pen at the NY Times, but I'm not actually quoting her, but rather replicating her quoting of the new collection of William Styron essays, Havanas in Camelot. This blog is about loving the physicality of books, right? And this quote celebrates books and knowledge and the places where it's all held together.

The quote is about Styron's time at the expansive library of Duke University, just before he was sent off to fight in World War II:
“I read everything I could lay my hands on,” he remembers, some 50 years later. “Even today I can recall the slightly blind and bloodshot perception I had of the vaulted Gothic reading room, overheated, the smell of glue and sweat and stale documents, winter coughs, whispers, the clock ticking toward midnight as I raised my eyes over the edge of ‘Crime and Punishment.’ The library became my hangout, my private club, my sanctuary, the place of my salvation; during the many months I was at Duke, I felt that when I was reading in the library I was sheltered from the world and from the evil winds of the future; no harm could come to me there.”

The rest of the article is a review of the book and not particularly interesting; one of those descriptive reviews. But I do want to pick this book up, perhaps in paperback next year.

I have a special affection for Styron, as I worked for his UK agent when I first got into publishing. Before I left, Vintage UK put out all his books in matching paperbacks and I stole one of each. I spoke to him a few times, but never had a memorable conversation with him. His books, though, seem in some ways like the last gasp of a certain kind of writing, one that took skill and time and patience and craft. It wasn't the last gasp, of course, and he wasn't without his problems, but he is definitely one of those writers whom I read and admire, for his solid skill and thoroughness.

And as people say all the time, Darkness Visible is just a beautiful and illuminating explanation of depression. As someone who has not experienced but, like all of us, knows many who have, I felt that much more understanding having read the slim book.

In you case you didn't realize, Styron passed away in November of 2006. He was 81.

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