Monday, April 26, 2010

My Old Friend

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.

Chinese proverb
For me, one of the most poignant moments in all of grand opera is in the last act of Puccini's "La Boheme." Four men live together in a cold attic apartment in Paris. One of them, Colline, decides to go out and sell his overcoat to buy medicine for his roommate's very ill girl friend in the hope of keeping her alive. He sings a short but sad farewell to his coat, the friend who has kept him warm and whose pockets always carried the poetry and philosophy that he loves. "Addio. Addio."

It brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it.

A few times in my life, for various reasons I have had to abandon my library. I love books and I hope that wherever mine have ended up they are loved as much I loveed them. But there is one book I have never parted with. It sits at my elbow when I am at my desk. If I go anywhere for more than a day it goes with me in my back pack or suitcase. It is one of my dearest friends.

I bought it brand new from a bookstore in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1957. It's almost as old as I am. I paid $6.50 for it. You can barely read the price, written in pencil on the inside. I wrote my name underneath the price in red ink which is still quite visible.

It's a small volume, very small considering what it contains. It's 7 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches and 1 inch thick. In all the bookstores I've been in over the years, I've never seen another copy of it. It was printed by Oxford University Press in 1947.

It is in very threadbare condition due to age and use. I've taped the inside of the hard cover to the pages, but the tape on the outside spine is coming loose again. The pages are very thin India paper and fortunately I haven't torn any of them.

What is it? It's my complete Shakespeare. And it is complete; all the plays and all the poems, including all the sonnets in one small volume. Shakespeare is a divine gift to the human race, and no matter what English professors and stage directors do to it, it remains a rare treasure, recognized the world over.

This book has been a continuous inspiration to me for 53 years. I need a magnifying glass to read it now, but, so what? Falstaff, Lear and Juliet still come alive whenever the book is opened. I would never part with it. If, heaven forbid, I had to move suddenly this book would be one of the first things I would grab.

I love it. It's my old friend. It's the garden in my pocket.



  1. As good a read as when it was originally posted. Such a treasure to have such a companion.

  2. Such dear friends should never part. For even on the coldest of winters days... you can get lost in a Mid Summer's Night Dream. Hold close what you consider dear, such treasures are to be kept close to the heart. Blessings to you and yours. Love and Light, Nina P

  3. Anyone who speaks English as their native language can count enumerable blessings.
    The greatest of which in my opinion is the ability to read the works of William Shakespeare the consummate writer throughout the history of English literature.

    His works were so gobsmacking they stopped the developement of a language that had up until then changed so greatly that after 2 centuries the writings of Chaucer were almost unreadable.
    Yet now after more than 3 1/2 centuries we can still read and understand his plays.
    That the English language should develop with time so that The Bard might not be understood would be an unacceptable price for changing moments that now hold his writings supreme.