I’ll try this idea out again, putting it in the first person this time. Maybe it will spark agreement or disagreement – anyway, perhaps (I can only hope) it will birth a discussion. In my previous post (here, in case you missed it) I wrote about the books colonists brought from England to America when they left the Old World behind, and I wondered what choices Americans of today might make if they were leaving for new homes, never again to see the old. I asked readers to “think of this question not only in terms of your own survival, well-being, recreation and interests but also in terms of what would benefit future generations in what would be their native land.” But I didn’t say what books I would take. Now I’ve done some soul- and shelf-searching, and here’s what I come up with:
First, my French bible, La Bible de Jerusalem. The Bible is many books in one, so that’s a good deal, and taking the French translation would help me keep that language in my head. Next, the complete works of Shakespeare – in some edition with small type, of course, but if I couldn’t take everything, I’d take the sonnets and leave the plays behind. One woman I said this to said her choice would be exactly the opposite – take the plays, leave the poetry – and that’s just the kind of difference that interests me: what would I take; what would you take?
Following Dawn’s very good general suggestion, I’d take along Bradford Angier’s Handbook of Woodcraft Wisdom, with its indispensable, life-saving information for finding safe drinking water, making shelters, tying knots, marking trails, etc. A heavy book from my home library that would have to accompany me to my new home tells how to do pretty much anything that needs doing in the country, from digging a septic pit and mixing concrete to raising livestock and poultry, with first aid and food preservation thrown in, so I couldn’t leave behind The Rural Efficiency Guide, published in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1918. But I still might that great old standby, Putting Food By and/or an old personal favorite, Going Wild in the Kitchen.
After those necessities, the choosing gets harder, but there are certain books of fiction I wouldn’t want to my life to be without. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion would have to accompany me to my new home. I’d also have to be able to re-read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and The Borrowers Afield; St.-Exupery’s The Little Prince, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows; and Palmer Brown’s The Silver Nutmeg.
If I had to leave Michigan forever, I’d be leaving a large part of my heart behind and would want to revisit home via the poetry of Jim Harrison; Michigan: A History and Waiting for the Morning Train by Bruce Catton; and Altrocchi’s Wolves Against the Moon; Airgood’s South of Superior; and Campbell’s Once Upon a River (those last three all fiction), as well as (how could I almost forget this?) Alexis de Tocqueville’s Journey to America, with his wondrous evocation of the southeast Michigan wilderness, on the verge of its extinction!
I’d want to be able to revisit France, too, from my new world, so I’d need Elliot Paul’s The Last Time I Saw Paris and Jean Dutourd’s The Horrors of Love -- or, maybe just the first and last volumes of Proust’s À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, certainly an appropriate theme for my long future of exile.
A good poetry anthology or two would have to find room in my trunk. Maybe The College Anthology of British and American Verse (1964) and then Poetry in Michigan, Michigan in Poetry (2013), the latter including all that beautiful visual art, as well. Of the philosophers, I would take Aristotle (certainly De Anima) and Bergson (Les donneés immédiates de la conscience) and something by William James.
If I had room for drawing books, I couldn’t do better than to take along Frederick Franck’s The Zen of Seeing – or any of his books or any of Clare Walker Leslie’s. Essays? Jerry Dennis and Anne-Marie Oomen, Primo Levi and Tony Judt, Wendell Berry and Adam Gopnik. Would I have left behind a world in which I needed the piercingly intelligent humor of Barbara Ehrenreich? Charles Lamb’s letters?
One thing I would definitely need to take would be plenty of paper – loose paper for writing letters, books of lined but blank pages to keep journals in, and books with unlined blank pages for drawing. Also pencils and pens and erasers. Lots of paper, lots of pencils and pens and erasers.
Is it surprising that in the “brave new world” of my imagination there is wilderness (hence the need for Angier) but not modern technology (hence the need for The Rural Efficiency Guide and all that blank paper)? Perhaps you imagine your brave new world on another planet entirely! Or a space station! I am so curious!