A Poet, a Playwrite, and a Man of Letters

Here are three other books I bought at the library book sale. They, along with the book of criticism from yesterday, were 25¢ each, so you can imagine how lucky I was to show up late and buy what I did. Hoards of people arrived up when the library opened and picked most shelves clean. Birds of prey are less thorough tearing apart carcasses.

Two girls, in particular, did a fine job of ruining it for everyone else. They sat like pirates picking through their spoils, two towering piles of books at least forty volumes high climbing up from between their legs. I saw an early edition of Leaves of Grass at the top of the pile and asked if they planned to buy all those books.

I thought the one in the wolf t-shirt was going to deck me. She confirmed they were pillaging the library (my words) and had the nerve to toss me a defiant look. I slit my eyes, nodded my head in acceptance and gave myself a mental high-five for not telling her to take her book of poetry and get lost in the woods.

Library kerfuffle, narrowly avoided.

I bought The Selected Poems by Robert Browning,  a 1949 printing of Best Plays of Shakespeare, and The Noble Voice by Mark Van Doren. I thumbed through all three, but I don’t know how quick will get to reading them. Of the three, The Noble Voice is the most interesting to me since it is a book of analysis and discussion. Reading an analysis of a classic piece of literature is far less dry than it sounds, and I am amazed at the nuance I miss as an average reader.

For example, I recently read an article discussing almond trees as symbols of watchfulness and promise in art and literature. This relates back to several passages in the Old and New Testament. They can also represent thoughtlessness, new life, and the coming of spring. I have been meaning to create a composition on a passage I enjoyed from Chronicle of a Death Foretold, but couldn’t find a decent picture of an almond grove, which featured heavily in certain scenes. Now I want to reread the book with that article on almond trees in mind to see how my understanding of the story shifts.

As I was taking pictures, the book of poems by Browning opened up to this page. I thought it was appropriate given yesterday’s post. Truly, there is a place in our lives for reading of all sorts.

I can hardly have little doubt but that my writing has been, in the main, too hard for many I should have been pleased to communicate with; but I never designedly tried to puzzle people, as some of my critics have supposed. On the other hand, I never pretended to offer such literature as should be a substitute for a cigar or game of dominos to an idle man. So, perhaps on the whole I get my deserts and something over,–not a crowd but a few I value more. Let me remember gratefully that I may keep you, and the friends you mention, among these: while you, in turn, must remember me as

Yours, my dear sir, very faithfully

                           Robert Browning


Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    Yikes on those selfish pickers. And, to be totally shallow, whatever the content of “The Noble Voice,” I have to love it just for its beautiful colors and design. Great for styling! 😉

    • says

      That’s what drew me to it in the first place. I love the cover designs of the mid century. Simple patterns, color, and typeface (or font–I never know which word is correct).

  2. says

    Our library had a book sale also and it took every.ounce.of.my.being. to not peruse the selection, time was not my friend that day.

    I don’t know why people don’t use those superfluous, flowery closings at the end of letters anymore… oh yeah – that’s because we don’t hand write letters, we email. Could you imagine writing that at the end of a work or personal email…. just saying, the world would be a better place. We could read Jane Eyre at lunch and wear bonnets and carry parasols and help me… I’m spiraling….

    Gotta go…

    I mean….

    Forever your friend, in good weather and bad, peace, love and Ina Garten’s perfect roast chicken,


  3. says

    Love the jackets; I’m totally okay with judging a book by it’s cover … that’s how I roll. As for the rest, I’m just going to take this time to revert to the old standby: I love it!

  4. WittyMermaid says

    Do you think he meant “desserts”? Even if he did mean “deserts,” it’s an interesting statement–same meaning, only opposite spectrum…

    • says

      You know, I double and triple checked to make sure it wasn’t a typo on my part. It’s “deserts.” I read it to say desserts. Possibly a mistake on his part? If it is, it’s a funny thing to see. Makes him human, especially as he talks about others not understanding what he writes. :)

  5. Phaedra says

    I’ve been meaning to comment on your posts about literary criticism & today is the day! I, too, have a secret, nerdy love of the analysis, the critique of any story. I may enjoy the analysis as much as the story some times. As you pointed out here, they add so much more meaning and new interpretations open up to me. It’s often a lightbulb moment and I have to go back and re-read the passage with new eyes.
    I’m happy that I’m not alone in this. I started with a stack of Norton anthologies at age 10, from a library book sale and haven’t looked back.
    Enjoy your treasures!

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