Bookman’s Promise, Lichtenberg, and Me

I am only 74 pages into The Bookman’s Promise by John Dunning, the third book of five in the Cliff Janeway novels and I already know I will buy the other four. The reason is simple. The writing.

In the story Janeway is talking about Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. He mentions that after his death, Burton’s wife “torched. . .forty years of unpublished manuscripts, journals, and notes. . .to purify his image.” She did not want anything to taint his image with the Church, though it was a bit late. But that is another story.

Then Janeway says “This is why I am not religious. If and when we do learn the true secret of the universe, some kind of religion will be there to hide it. To cover it up. To persecute and shred, to burn and destroy. They stay in business by keeping us in the Dark Ages. Darkness is what they sell.”

This is strong writing. Comparing what Burton’s wife did to her husband’s unpublished works (bad girl) to a conspiratorial view of religious purpose, and making it short, concise and clear. There need be no elaboration.

This is the joy for me of reading. Not just the craft of writing done well, but learning about Burton, whose published  books, now rare, factor into the story as part of the plot. One should not assume you learn nothing in reading fiction.

Later, Janeway, an ex-cop, now rare bookseller is talking how the computer leveled the playing field in rare book seling. It tells people what books are selling for around the world, but not “how to identify a true first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Then Janeway quotes Lichtenberg, German physicist, who said, “A book is a mirror. If an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.”  A computer, like the mirror, can only do so much. A computer can’t make us experts in rare books, and if both book and mirror are reflective, neither will make us more than we are.

Lichtenberg was also a satirist who said, “I thank the Lord a thousand times for having made me become an atheist.” He gave credit where credit was due.

So this was my joy of reading the first 74 pages of Dunning’s book this Sunday afternoon that I wanted to share. Now back to reading.

life is like a book

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