17 September 2009


We get letters... from all over. From Rodney Davey in England:

“The US continues to puzzle me enormously. At the moment it's the fuss and rage and (so far as I can tell from the news clips) the sheer insanity which has blown up around Obama's plan to introduce health insurance. What's the problem? Most of Europe has had something like it for decades. Is it the perceived cost which is likely to devolve upon the shoulders of the luckier portion of American society? If so, then that sounds like 'bugger you Jack, I'm alright' politics. Or is it because it smacks of 'socialism', a concept more appalling to the average US sensibility, it seems, than Satan himself.  Astonishing. Poor old Obama, he's got his work cut out. Will he be tougher than Hillary C was?”

In August I wrote a column that told the story of Grandma Roseby in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Grandma Roseby is one hundred and five years old and reads six books a week.

Speaking of Pembrokeshire, Tom Davenport wrote:

“The wonderful writer John Seymour lived and farmed there for some years, producing a number of highly enjoyable books on self sufficient farming...

"He eventually...  migrated across to Ireland, where he started over again and wrote “Blessed Isle - One Man's Ireland” in 1992, beginning around his 76th year... John's writing has a great deal of unvarnished charm in its descriptions of the rural and village life he savored.”

On the subject of the Internet vs. reference books. I got quite a few letters, among them this note from Dan Kvaka:

“Funny but all very true. In our health center, our doctors and mid-levels no longer have subscriptions to magazines and journals (except the ones sent for free by drug companies, and loaded with ads for.....guess what?). Instead they have online subscriptions to medical websites. The information changes so fast, printing could not keep up.

"Last week (someone) asked me to set up (her computer) so she could view a YouTube video of a white guy in a lab coat droning on about lyme disease... I asked her, is that actually interesting? She said, Yes, he's the mega-expert and she pointed to the ratings for that video, thousands of reviews and he got 4-1/2 stars.

"All of our providers still have all of their textbooks decorating the shelves in their offices. They don't read them, they don't want them taking up space at home, and they don't want to throw them away 'cause they paid so (goddamn) much for them when they were starving students in medical school.”

On a column about owning way too many books, Nancy Suib wrote:

“REALLY enjoyed this... you have put words to my addiction as well... definitely feel more comforted about it.”

Roger Luckenbach: “Makes me think that at least I am not the only crazed overly literate person. I thought that I had an over-active packrat gene but then a psychiatrist friend corrected me and said I was an esteemed bibliophile. Makes me feel better but still don't have enough room or time for all the books.”

Finally, this school memory from John Bear, concerning first sentences:

“My wonderful 10th grade English teacher, Aram Tolegian, who claimed (as did many Armenians at the time, I suspect) to be a cousin of William Saroyan, gave us the class project of choosing the best first line in American fiction. It was a wonderful and contentious time, and when the final vote was taken, and there was a clear winner, we were all commanded to commit it to memory forever, so of course we did.

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."

Thank you John and thank you all listeners and readers. I truly enjoy hearing from you. Has anyone remembered what book that first sentence comes from? No fair looking it up on Google, just because I did.


All Words on Books scripts are archived here.

“Instant Books & Evil Politicians”

“Grandma Roseby in Pembrokeshire”

“Eat Your Phone Book”

“I Fear I’m Not Alone”

“Judging a Book by its First Line, or maybe its Last Line”

“Blessed Isle: One Man’s Ireland” is out of print. It can easily be obtained from a number of dealers at prices ranging from under a dollar to $212. Try this

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read further if you still are figuring out the provenance of "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."

– “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe.

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