The Value of Beautiful Books

She crossed to the bookshelves.  It had taken hours to fill them. A thankless task, as doubtless, David would rearrange his treasures as soon as he was rested, he loved so to handle his books. 

Hilltops Clear

I’ve written before about valuable advice I received from my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Harry B. Caldwell, who suggested that I take a course in literary criticism before I undertook any of my other English classes. The benefits of that course were incalculable.

I didn’t know, going in, that the course would benefit me so, but that’s the nice thing about good advice: It works. Following Dr. Caldwell’s, I gained new tools of perspective with which to approach The American Novel, Social Darwinism, Faulkner–and Shakespeare.

Of course, Shakespeare. Like a dictionary or set of encyclopedias, a collection of Shakespeare was standard in the homes of my youth, and we read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school. My parents had a red, multi-volume set of Shakespeare–largely unread but available nonetheless.

How could I not study Shakespeare?

Now, I was in college, and I didn’t have to take Shakespeare, but how could I not? Could I call myself a good English major without it?

My favorite authors were Emilie Loring and J. R. R. Tolkein, but it was time to “take the medicine,” and I had two choices: “Shakespeare: Comedies and Histories” or “Shakespeare: Tragedies and Romances.” I decided I could endure comedies and histories for a semester.

I had a surprise in store.

My professor was Dr. David L. Middleton, a genial fellow, unprepossessing and approachable. On the first day of class, he held up the textbook we were to purchase and said something like, “You may have copies of Shakespeare at home, and paperback versions are certainly cheaper, but I want you to have this copy. You are English majors, and Shakespeare is among the most important writers in the English language. You will want to have a beautiful copy, one that sets the tone for what you are reading, a keepsake copy with intelligent commentary.”

We would?

The book was lovely–and cost nearly as much as I earned in a week at my work-study job for the English department. The Complete Works of Shakespeare was big, it was expensive–and every one of us bought it and lugged it to and from class. Part of the medicine, we thought. We could always sell it back for half price at the end of the semester.

Then class began.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of being completely captivated by a class you’ve taken, but that’s what happened to us. Not just me–us. I have no memory of exactly what Dr. Middleton said or did, only that, when the bell rang at the end of class, none of us moved. We sat for minutes more, hanging on his every word, fascinated. Shakespeare was a wonderland with Dr. Middleton as our guide.

Still with me today

When the semester was over, I quickly signed up for “Shakespeare: Tragedies and Romances.” There were no more Shakespeare courses beyond that, but at least I had my wonderful copy, I thought. There was no thought of selling it back.

I’ve remembered Dr. Middleton’s lesson about keepsake books. Sometimes, you want a book to be special, not only in content but in its physical manifestation. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. My children received special copies of Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, and I took special care selecting a copy of The Night Before Christmas for my granddaughter.

I wanted Happy Landings to be a keepsake book for me and for you. I’m happy that it is.

Happy Landings!

Happy Landings in the Media

A nice article appeared recently in the Ellsworth American. You can read it here:

“Revisiting Emilie Loring’s Tales of Romance and Adventure” in the Ellsworth American

If you are active on social media, let others know about Happy Landings and please post a review at your favorite site when you’ve had a chance to read it.

We still have a lot of Emilie Loring readers to reach!

5 thoughts on “The Value of Beautiful Books

  1. I will definitely show off your book and it is a keepsake as it is attractive for the audience to see.

    Funny you mention Shakespeare as I taught all novels, tragedies and comedies and sonnets at International School in Manila and at Beverly Hills High School and at the Yeshiva University High Schools of LA and every time I read them and taught them there were new perspectives that I gathered and new impressions about them. I also played several roles on stage as Portia, and Helen and I had different feelings about the plays.

    I think that teaching American and English Literature in both prose and poetry gave me a new sense of the characters and the books all became keepsakes even if they were not as appealing like your book.

    Thanks for bringing back memories of my childhood and teaching careers as you are so prolific in ideas and so engaging that I enjoy your commentaries regularly.

    Love and thanks,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. such an interesting perspective, and you are blessed to have had a good experience in English classes. I never studied Romeo and Juliet, or anything else by Shakespeare for that matter. My high school freshman English teacher didn’t care for the Bard, instead he was a fan of Mark Twain, so we read Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, about which I remember practically nothing, and The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. After that my required English classes were journalism and drama, we performed things like Dark of the Moon by Richardson and Berney and Cry Havoc by Allan Kenward. I remember reading a novel by Essie Summers where she was talking about a teacher who loved Shakespeare and caused her students to love him too. For the first time, I wondered if I had missed out on something I should have been exposed to. As a graduate student, I learned to buy used paperbacks whenever possible because that way I could afford more books instead of expensive ones. The book is beautiful, I enjoyed reading it, and now it’s on the shelf with other biographies of authors I’ve enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny you should write this today. As I have been reading, I am being careful not to damage the book or cover in anyway. I kept thinking I need to buy the paperback version when it comes out so I can re-read time and again without worrying about damaging the beautiful cover or the nice pristine pages. This is indeed a keepsake book! It is also a great reference book with the sidebars and the great end notes and bibliography. I noticed so many quotes from “As Long as I Live.” Interesting.

    I see the journalist who interviewed you is from St Louis. I had to double-check the name and locale of the paper! You sure have gotten around. I see you went to U of IL I spent a memorable semester at IL State U. I don’t necessarily recall a class mesmerizing me. I guess it would jump out at me if it did. That semester at IL St I took a class on Industrial Technology where it was predicted we’d work from home and other futuristic ideas that have come to pass. It was fascinating. One of the most meaningful classes was an art history class. So I could go to museums and know what/who I was looking at. That was a great class. It really expanded my world. One of my French profs compared every bit of French lit we read to “Easy Rider”. I don’t know why. I was a student in the mid-80s. [I was a French major then. I then embarked on business classes at SUIE, b/c I realized I needed to do something to make a living.]

    Happy Landings!


  4. Your book is definitely going to be a keepsake as many of my colleagues and friends who were visiting me now for month birthday celebration were so impressed with your book on my table close to my Taking Flight. It was the presentation, the colors the images and so your book is a definite keepsake. I agree with you that teachers have lasting impressions on students and i had a number of those.
    So when I taught Shakespeare all tragedies and comedies I remembered my teachers and how they had an impact on me, I guess I did the same as my students would see me in restaurants after they graduated from Beverly Hills High School and would say ” I remember your words now that I am at Brown University majoring in English. What a feeling! and you are glad you touched them. Love and thanks for sharing those experiences. Raqui


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