Saturday, November 20, 2010

More Wisdom from The Count of Monte Cristo

When I read The Count of Monte Cristo a few years ago I was captivated by a something Abbé Faria said to Edmond Dantés while in dungeon at the Chateu d’If:

In Rome I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library. By reading and re-reading them, I discovered that one hundred and fifty books, carefully chosen, give you, if not a complete summary of human knowledge, at least everything that it is useful for a man to know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and re-reading them more or less by heart. In prison, with a slight effort of memory, I recalled them entirely. So I can recite to you Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, Strada, Jornadès, Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli and Bossuet.

Within a short time of his prison sentence nineteen year old Dantés was about to go mad because he had an unfurnished brain. Abbé Faria , on the other hand, had read widely which helped him to maintain his wits. He was never without something to think about.

This passage set me to thinking about the possibility of owning less books, but making the ones I have really count. Recently as I've read some blogs on minimalism I've been even more encouraged to let go of excess books. During our 20 years (and many moves) in Brazil, I've carried my library around with me because it gave me security to know that I would always have something to read or re-read. And, of course, I kept adding books for future "needs". I decluttered everything else before each move, but my books were sacrosanct.

Now, I'm rethinking all of that. I've started a list of "If I Could Only Have a Hundred Books" and I'm very careful about what goes on it. I'm making progress! 


Anonymous said...

This idea is a good one. I, too, have been bit by the desire to own less, but own those of quality (not necessarily monetary). I've been pruning my own bookcase for over a year. Having access to the internet and several good libraries makes owning books a personal choice, not a necessity. I don't have a Kindle or other electronic reader - I still like the feel of actual books.
One hundred books sounds like too many for me, so I need to start with about 50 and then see if I need to add. Just thinking about my own collection - one that I know I will keep is "From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life" by Jacques Barzun. I keep a notebook handy when I'm reading, there are words I have to look up. But the writing itself is very engaging and easy to follow. You can open it almost any of it's 877 pages and be startled by thoughts of historical meaning. I bought my spotless hardback with dust cover for about $8.00 on Amazon.

Brittanie said...

I want to read this book but I have no idea when it comes to translations etc. to pick. Do you have one you recommend?

hopeinbrazil said...

Brittanie, I'm sorry I don't have my copy with me to refer you to a good translation. Just try one and see how it "feels". I've heard that translations from Russian have to be chosen carefully, but I'm not sure about French ones.

Anonymous said...

I recommend the Robin Buss translation published by Penguin Classics. Very readable in English, and includes some of the previously omitted material that was in the book originally.