The Word

The Long Game

Books are a window to abundance. The dissatisfaction caused by seeing what’s possible, measured against what is, is transformative.

That reminded me of something.

From The Fountainhead:

There were people in Hell’s Kitchen who never ventured beyond its boundaries, and others who seldom stepped out of the tenement in which they were born. But Gail Wynand often went for a walk through the best streets of the city. He felt no bitterness against the world of wealth, no envy and no fear. He was simply curious and he felt at home on Fifth Avenue, just as anywhere else. He walked past the stately mansions, his hands in his pockets, his toes sticking out of flat-soled shoes. People glared at him, but it had no effect. He passed by and left behind him the feeling that he belonged on this street and they didn’t. He wanted nothing, for the time being, except to understand.

He wanted to know what made these people different from those in his neighborhood. It was not the clothes, the carriages or the banks that caught his notice; it was the books. People in his neighborhood had clothes, horse wagons and money; degrees were inessential; but they did not read books. He decided to learn what was read by the people on Fifth Avenue. One day, he saw a lady waiting in a carriage at the curb; he knew she was a lady — his judgment on such matters was more acute than the discrimination of the Social Register; she was reading a book. He leaped to the steps of the carriage, snatched the book and ran away. It would have taken swifter, slimmer men than the cops to catch him.

It was a volume of Herbert Spencer. He went through a quiet agony trying to read it to the end. He read it to the end. He understood one quarter of what he had read. But this started him on a process which he pursued with a systematic, fist-clenched determination. Without advice, assistance or plan, he began reading an incongruous assortment of books; he would find some passage which he could not understand in one book, and he would get another on that subject. He branched out erratically in all directions; he read volumes of specialized erudition first, and high-school primers afterward. There was no order in his reading; but there was order in what remained of it in his mind.

He discovered the reading room of the Public Library and he went there for a while — to study the layout. Then, one day, at various times, a succession of young boys, painfully combed and unconvincingly washed, came to visit the reading room. They were thin when they came, but not when they left. That evening Gail Wynand had a small library of his own in the corner of his basement. His gang had executed his orders without protest. It was a scandalous assignment; no self-respecting gang had ever looted anything as pointless as books. But Stretch Wynand had given the orders — and one did not argue with Stretch Wynand.

Previously at The eBook Test:

God Bless All Librarians


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Filed under Books: General, Writing

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