Monday, August 19, 2019

What is a Book?

Sesame and Lilies 

Sesame and Lilies

“All books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hours, and the books of all Time.” 

― John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies


What is a book?

"A book is essentially not a talking thing, but a written thing; and written, not with a view of mere communication, but of permanence. The book of talk is printed only because its author cannot speak to thousands o people at once; if he could, he would---the volume is mere multiplication of his voice. You cannot talk to your friend in India; if you could, you would; you write instead: that is mere conveyance of voice. But a book is written, not to multiply the voice merely, not to carry it merely, but to perpetuate it. The author has something to say which he perceives to be true and useful, or helpfully beautiful. So far as he knows, no one has yet said it; so far as he knows, no one else can say it. He is bound to say it, clearly and melodiously if he may; clearly at all events. In the sum of his life he finds this to be the thing, or group of things, manifest to him; ---this, the piece of true knowledge, or sight, which his share of sunshine and earth has permitted him to seize. He would fain set it down for ever; engrave it on rock, if he could; saying, "This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved, and hated, like another; my life was as the vapour, and is not; but this I saw and knew: this, if anything is worth your memory." That is his "writing"; it is, in his small human way, and with whatever degree of true inspiration is in him, his inscription, or scripture. That is a "Book."" (pp 32-33)

Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin, Deborah Epstein Nord, ed., Yale University Press, 2002 (1864).


Brian Joseph said...

That is a fantastic quotation. I have often thought about books and how they fit into life. I like a lot of Ruskin says here. I have also thought about the idea that many aspects of our lives seem like vapor. But that is not true of books.

Sharon Wilfong said...

This is a very interesting commentary about books. I think of a book's permanence. I think it is a two-edged sword in that some of the most wonderful thoughts can be preserved. But also, unfortunate times when maybe we were less mature. I think of books written by some people who probably later regret what they had to say and an earlier time in their life, but it's out there now.

James said...

Yes, the permanence of books is of value, although I've had a few that crumbled - they can be replaced if they are worthy.

James said...

Thanks for your observations. It is truly interesting to see how some authors change over time. And, as readers we change as well.