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Archive for the ‘The Sketch-Book’ Category

Happy New Year to all my readers! In years past I’ve waited until the end of the year to post my thoughts about the books I’ve read in the past year. In 2018 I thought I’d do something different by posting my thoughts about the books I’ve read in individual blog posts throughout the year.

As regular readers of my year-end posts will recall, not all of my thoughts about a book warrant a full blog post. Sometimes I feel that there isn’t much to say about a book. In these cases, I may include the review as an addition to a longer blog post, post my thoughts on this website’s page titled “Reading List” above, or eliminate the review altogether. I’ll decide what I think is best on a case-by-case basis.

Now on to my thoughts about The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., by Washington Irving.

My father died a bit more than 24 years ago. Among his personal effects were two books. One was a book of poetry and the other was a well-worn copy of The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, by Washington Irving. Why did he keep these books? I will never know for sure since I didn’t find these books until after he died, therefore I couldn’t ask him. My father was not the poetry reading type as far as I know, so I can’t even speculate as to why he kept that book.

The well-worn copy of The Sketch-Book has scribblings in it along with my father’s name, one of his childhood nicknames, and the address of the house he lived in as a child, written in his own handwriting on the inside front cover. From this, I speculated that this was probably one of his school books. My father mentioned Rip Van Winkle several times when I was growing up so maybe that was one of his favorite stories. One of the stories in The Sketch-Book is “Rip Van Winkle,” so I thought that maybe he kept the book because it contained this story.

As I started reading the book, I wondered what grade my father was in when this would’ve been required reading, which would then give me insight into what sort of reader my father was in his childhood. I already knew he read very well as an adult. The date of the copyright would’ve given me a clue, except that the title page and copyright page is missing from this copy, as is the table of contents I would later learn. A colleague at work suggested that I do a Google image search to see if I can find out the copyright date that way. So, before Christmas 2017 I did just that and found this listing on eBay. This book on eBay looks like it’s in a much better condition than my copy, but judging from the cover and the first page of the book, the one with the picture of the author, I can say with confidence that it is identical to my copy. I was amazed to find out that the (presumed) copyright date is 1898!

My father was born in 1910, and judging from the reading level of these stories, my father would not be able to read this book with any understanding until he was at least 10 years old. So, I concluded that since the presumed copyright is at least 22 years before my father was likely to pick up this book and read it, there is the distinct possibility that this book was originally my grandfather’s (my grandmother did not speak or read English). If this was the case, my grandfather most likely passed this book down to my father when he was old enough to read it. And, if that’s the case, that’s probably the real reason my father kept the book all those years. Maybe my grandfather even read to his children from this book and that’s how my father first learned about Rip Van Winkle?

This is all speculation, of course. From the beginning, this book was special to me because it belonged to my father. Finding out that this book could’ve belonged to my grandfather, who may have then passed it down to my father makes it even more special to me.

The book itself is a two-volume travelogue and collection of essays from the time the author spent in England. The two most famous stories in the collection are “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The most famous essay, in my opinion, is “John Bull,” the personification of England.

Most of the stories and essays I found interesting, except for “Little Britain,” a story about a neighborhood in the center of London, which bored me. “The Pride of the Village,” about lost love, appealed to my romantic side.

I found “The Art of Book-Making” interesting, appealing to my bookish nature. The author describes his experience of visiting the reading-room of the British Library. His imagination runs wild while watching authors research ancient works so that they can use that knowledge in their own creations. But, judging from the author’s choice of words, it seems as though he has contempt for those who do such a thing.

“The Mutability of Literature” is another story that intrigued me even more than “The Art of Book-Making”. In this case, the library he explores seems to be more of a “literary catacomb, where authors, like mummies, are piously entombed, and left to blacken and moulder in dusty oblivion.” (page 198, volume 1) The author then goes on to lament about all the work authors have put in to create these books. “And all for what? to occupy an inch of dusty shelf, —to have the title of their works read now and then in a future age…and in another age to be lost, even to remembrance.” (page 199, volume 1) In this story too, the author’s imagination runs wild and one of the books wakes up and begins to talk. The book and the author then debate the pros and cons of keeping books intact for display on shelves vs. having them circulate among the masses, having them eventually fall apart, and turn to dust. The book’s point of view (as is mine): “Books were written to give pleasure and to be enjoyed…” (page 200, volume 1)

Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars and I would recommend that anyone who loves books should read “The Mutability of Literature” if they get the chance.

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