Culled from the libraries of various family members and friends, all now departed, I see that I have enough to keep me busy reading for the rest of my life. I was also touched by the depth and seriousness of the tastes and interests of people I never knew or knew only in some role other than that of serious reader.
I found, for instance, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” and Thomas Hardy’s “Return of The Native” with my grandfather’s name, “Robert Sutherland,” written on the fly-leaves. He was an eighth grade dropout from Garnett, Kansas. From the dates these editions of the books were published, he was a young man working in Kansas City when he bought them. They were not something he read because he was required to for high school or college because he never went to high school or college.
I see complete sets of Shakespeare and Dickens, Jane Austen and the Bronte’s, all heavily used and underlined. I found the works of my favorite British authors like Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh, each acquired as they were written as revealed by the inscriptions inside.
There are dozens of books of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and William Faulkner. There is an early edition of “The Education of Henry Adams,” which some consider the best non-fiction book ever written by an American as well as volumes of his correspondence with other luminaries of his time. There are numerous volumes of history, by historians renowned and obscure, and beautifully bound nineteenth century editions of poetry.
There is a complete set of Proust, both in the original French edition and the first—and some think still the best—English translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. There are not just the recognized classics but quirky, yet fascinating, tomes like “Vases and Volcanoes.” Published by the British museum it is a paper-bound coffee table book with beautiful photos of the paintings and antiquities collected by Sir William Hamilton. A British diplomat during the Napoleonic era, his wife was a famous courtesan and mistress of Lord Nelson. I stayed up quite late last night reading an acid-tongued political polemic called “The Strange Death of Liberal England.” It is a cautionary tale of how a political party can come to grief at the hour of its greatest electoral triumph.
These are all books purchased by their past owners while they were running businesses, ranching or farming, or practicing law or medicine. They read these books during the times of their lives while they were working and raising families. I hope forty or fifty years from now some grandchild or family friend gets the same pleasure and knowledge from my books. I hope my choices of what to read prove to be of such lasting value.