Recently, I have become aware of a great wealth of knowledge right at my finger tips that I have been ignoring. I am referring to the multitude of unread books in my house, some that I have carted with me from place to place to place for years and have never even bothered to open. Or, if I have opened them, I have read only the first few pages and then slid them back onto the shelf, unfinished.
Case in point: I have a copy of Rilke’s Letters to Young Poet that has been hiding for years on my bookshelf. This slim paperback contains 12 letters that were written by Rilke between 1903 and 1908 to Franz Xaver Kappus, who had contacted the older poet in order to seek his advice as to whether his own poetry was “good” or not. Rilke graciously declines to answer the young man’s question, stating:
“Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself.”
The book was given to me by my housemates when I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan, studying art history. I was, myself, a young poet. They knew of my aspirations and it was kind of my friends to support me with the wisdom of Rilke. The book is inscribed: “Happy Birthday Lisa,” dated “September 5, 1982,” and signed by all of them.
This would have been my 22nd birthday. I think I must have started to read the book, but I got to Rilke’s first admonition: “ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night, must I write?” And as much as I wanted to answer yes to that question, I could not. I could not even finish the book. I put it down for 32 years, but I carried it with me to every new location I ventured. It is very light and has never taken up much room on my bookshelf. Now, I am reading it. It is only 123 pages. I will finish it by next Sunday. Mark my words.
This whole situation with regard to my books was brought to my attention because I am starting to go through Georg’s books. I am trying to make room for some of them on my shelves, and this requires looking at what is already there. I am noticing how many of them I have not read. What shall I keep, what can I give away? To my son, my sister, my friends, the library, Good Will.
Georg loved books and he collected all kinds: biography, novels, classics, and books on art, philosophy, spirituality, health, and more. He underlined as he read, and his books are full of red lines, exclamation points, and sentences that have been circled with excited rays of energy emanating from them, heralding their importance. When I come across his notations, I feel like Georg is talking to me from some timeless and universal place. He is showing me what he thought was important. How can I ignore this?
Now, in addition to my own unread books, I have a whole new library of materials that I have inherited from Georg. These books, when I read them, will speak to me in two voices: the voice of the author and the voice of my father, making sure I take note from his perspective. I feel like I am young again and about to start an amazing adventure. Between my own books and those that belonged to Georg, I will be reading for many years to come. Rest assured, I will let you know what marvelous things I discover.
One parting thought for you today: Check your bookshelves. Is there a book there waiting to be read?