Amherst Magazine

What They Are Reading

Professor of Philosophy Alexander George writes about the books on his figurative bedside table:

Keeping potted portraits of others’ works or of my reactions to a minimum, here instead are selected quotations, from stuff recently read, that did something for me.

From W. H. Auden’s Selected Poems, but not selected by him and including some poems he loathed and was ashamed to have written, though not this from “Horae Canonicae”: “at this noon, on this hill / in the occasion of this dying.”

From Simple Chess, by Michael Stean, a humorously titled book on strategic concepts by a then-young English grandmaster, who subsequently retired in his chess prime to become a tax accountant: “There is something magical about the number seven for a White Rook.”

From Wittgenstein in Cambridge, which collects together letters to and from Ludwig Wittgenstein during his years in Cambridge, here from a late letter to Piero Sraffa: “The older I grow the more I realize how terribly difficult it is for people to understand each other, and I think that what misleads one is the fact that they all look so much like each other. If some people looked like elephants and others like cats, or fish, one wouldn’t expect them to understand each other and things would look much more like what they really are.”

In The Yeats Reader, this from “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”: “Now that my ladder’s gone / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

From La Manivelle, by Robert Pinget, a radio play translated into English by his friend Samuel Beckett: “Et Rose Boulette, la belle Rose, elle est bien mince aujourd’hui…”, which became “And Rosie Plumpton bonny Rosie staring up at the lid these thirty years she must be now…”

In The Sounds of Poetry, by Robert Pinsky, a book that focuses on the poetry of poetry: “To hear these lines avoiding pentameter is to hear more about them.”

From Prayers and Meditations, by Samuel Johnson, this written on Sept. 18, 1764, his 56th birthday: “I have outlived many friends. I have felt many sorrows. I have made few improvements. Since my resolution formed last Easter, I have made no advancement in knowledge or in goodness; nor do I recollect that I have endeavoured it. I am dejected, but not hopeless. … I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing; the need of doing therefore is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O God, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.”