I will continue out of pattern, and write this week about Sartor Resartus even though I only just read it and have lots of things waiting in the queue. But (a) reading this was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, and (b) a big part of that was the joy of knowing that I would definitely be re-reading this book (and probably more than once), and therefore did not need to stress over every last word in it.
That is to say, I could simply enjoy it, knowing there would be more to enjoy for years to come! What else can a reader want?
Well, here’s an idea of what a reader might want—the best description I think I’ve read in a long time of what a “good” book should be like:
[W]e admitted that the Book had in a high degree excited us to self-activity, which is the best effect of any book; that it had even operated changes in our way of thought; nay, that it promised to prove, as it were, the opening of a new mine-shaft, wherein the whole world of Speculation might henceforth dig to unknown depths.
The Book in question—for I suppose I should explain something of what Sartor Resartus is—is a Philosophy of Clothes, written by the (fictional) Professor Teufelsdröckh and commented upon exensively by the “editor” of Sartor Resartus. The introduction to the Oxford World’s Classic edition notes that Thomas Carlyle’s book “makes the transition from the Romantic to the Victorian periods…[and] enacts within itself the dislocations of the passage.” Those lines are well worth stealing because I can’t imagine a better encapsulation of Sartor Resartus (other than ones like “awesome” or “super sweet”—but then few will be surprised I fell in love with one of the most important precursors to Moby-Dick).
While the Philosophy of Clothes is a good book, it’s also a bad book in the special way of such good books:
More specially it may now be declared that Professor Teufelsdröckh’s acquirements, patience of research, philosophic and even poetic vigour, are here made indisputably manifest; and unhappily no less his prolixity and tortuosity and manifold inaptitude; that, on the whole, as in opening new mine-shafts is not unreasonable, there is much rubbish in his Book, though likewise specimens of almost invaluable ore. A paramount popularity in England we cannot promise him.
New mineshafts full of rubbish: just how I look, with love, on a monster like Mardi or the cleaned-up, but still baggy, Moby-Dick. But is it rubbish? Is any of it really rubbish? Kevin finds purpose in even the boredom of M-D, and why not? After all, you can’t open the mineshaft without getting the rubbish somewhere, and there are always a few mad people like myself willing to sift through it just to be sure.