“I confess I have been a rake at reading. I have read those things which I ought not have read, and I have not read those things which I ought to have read, and there is no health in me — if by health you mean an inclusive and coherent knowledge of any body of great literature. I can only protest, like all rakes in their shameful senescence, that I have had a good time.”
Robertson Davies, from his essay, “A Rake at Reading,” in The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books, 1996
Robertson Davies has long been one of my favorite writers. Witty, wicked, malicious, a fabulous storyteller — if you don’t know his books, you have a treat in store. But now he has become one of my favorite readers as well. A hero among readers, you might say.
In this age of specialization and ponderous academicism (if it isn’t a word, it ought to be), even reading has become subject to systematicization and directives. It is a serious activity, to be carried out seriously. Well, seriously, I object. Since reading was my refuge in childhood and has been one of my greatest pleasures in life, I rebel against having it made a subject for “shoulds” and syllabi. Books, real books, not how-to tracts or sensationalist exploitations, are to come upon serendipitously, to roam about in, to dip into or to devour as one’s appetite dictates.
“I can only protest, like all rakes in their shameful senescence, that I have had a good time.” Yes, Robertson Davies! YES.
Apparently I’ve been a rake in my reading, too as I have not had the pleasure of meeting Davies (to be remedied at once with a visit to CWMARS.org!) Then I shall come back to re-comment 🙂
Oh, no! He would not be happy you haven’t read HIM (he had a very healthy ego); but the “rake in reading” would never direct you to do anything but what he did, dip and choose, dip and choose.
My personal favorite of his is the second novel of the Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore. Depending on how much you like Jung, it may or may not be a good place to start.
I adore this POV with respect to reading. College burned me out on reading for quite a few years, as the only time I had for reading was textbooks. Granted, the subject matter interested me; but these are not books I necessarily would have chosen.
A few years after college, I went to grad school – and I was once again burned out on reading.
Now I am studying for yoga training – and again, I have texts that are required versus of my choosing. And again, I feel resistance to them; even though I adore the subject matter, and even like some of the texts.
I think there is much to be said for choice, and for the “serendipity” of finding an unknown treasure, versus reading-for-knowledge-acquisition sake.
I always used to say that when I went to a library or a bookstore very often a book would jump out at me, right into my hands. That was always the right book. Serendipity. That can’t happen with a Kindle! Or even, really, buying at amazon.
For what it is worth – the very graceful leading lines are lifted directly from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer – the confession in the morning prayer.
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,
we have followed too much the devices and desires of our
we have offended against thy holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to
and we have done those things which we ought not to
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
spare thou those who confess their faults,
restore thou those who are penitent,
according to thy promises declared unto mankind
in Christ Jesus our Lord;
and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Davies would surely have known them well. I never heard him speak, but I’d BET he’d have a rolling, orotund delivery that would suit the words to a T.
I have been thinking seriously these days about our moving day which is coming up in March and trying to decide which books to take along and which to donate to library book sales. Like a court decision, this really concentrates one’s mind. The two essential writers for me are Robertson Davies, his excellent trilogies in particular, and Joseph Epstein, the master of the personal essay. My idea, and I fantasize, would be to have them both present at dinner. And what a time that would be. Sadly, Robertson Davies left the table several years ago. Joseph Epstein is alive and kicking as usual. In their way, they will both come along with me.
Then we’re going to need twin beds in the guest room right away 😀