The pleasure of booksWilliam Lyon Phelps Reading,Library
The habit of reading is one of the greatest resources of mankind ; and we enjoy reading books that belong to us much more than if they are borrowed . A borrowed book is like a guest in the house ; it must be treated with punctiliousness , with a certain considerate formality . You must see that it sustains no damage ; it must not suffer while under your roof . You cannot leave it carelessly , you cannot mark it , you cannot turn down the pages , you cannot use it familiarly . And then , some day , although this is seldom done , you really ought to return it . But your own books belong to you ; you treat them with that affectionate intimacy that annihilates formality . Books are for use , not for show ; you should own no book that you are afraid to mark up , or afraid to place on the table , wide open and face down . A good reason for marking favorite passages in books is that this practice enables you to remember more easily the significant sayings , to refer to them quickly , and then in later years , it is like visiting a forest where you once blazed a trail . You have the pleasure of going over the old ground , and recalling both the intellectual scenery and your own earlier self . Everyone should begin collecting a private library in youth ; the instinct of private property , which is fundamental in human beings , can here be cultivated with every advantage and no evils . One should have one’s own bookshelves , which should not have doors , glass windows , or keys ; they should be free and accessible to the hand as well as to the eye . The best of mural decorations is books ; they are more varied in color and appearance than any wallpaper , they are more attractive in design , and they have the prime advantage of being separate personalities , so that if you sit alone in the room in the firelight , you are surrounded with intimate friends . The knowledge that they are there in plain view is both stimulating and refreshing . You do not have to read them all . Most of my indoor life is spent in a room containing six thousand books ; and I have a stock answer to the invariable question that comes from strangers . ‘ Have you read all of these books ? ‘ ‘ Some of them twice . ‘ This reply is both true and unexpected . There are of course no friends like living , breathing , corporeal men and women ; my devotion to reading has never made me a recluse . How could it ? Books are of the people , by the people , for the people . Literature is the immortal part of history ; it is the best and most enduring part of personality . But book – friends have this advantage over living friends ; you can enjoy the most truly aristocratic society in the world whenever you want it . The great dead are beyond our physical reach , and the great living are usually almost as inaccessible ; as for our personal friends and acquaintances , we cannot always see them . Perchance they are asleep , or away on a journey . But in a private library , you can at any moment converse with Socrates or Shakespeare or Carlyl e or Dumas or Dickens or Shaw or Barrie or Galsworthy . And there is no doubt that in these books you see these men at their best . They wrote for you . They ‘ laid themselves out , ‘ they did their ultimate best to entertain you , to make a favorable impression . You are necessary to them as an audience is to an actor ; only instead of seeing them masked , you look into their innermost heart of heart .