Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Forgotten Bookmarks: In My Family Library and In a New Book

One of the delightful things about living in what I think of as my father's house, is the library I inherited from him. I sorted through a lot of it when I lost my parents, and gave away what I did not want. But some of the books had meaning for my father and I have kept those for myself.

I know the economic tome by Luwig Von Mises, On Human Action, was important to him, so I've tried to slog through it, to find out what I can learn from it. It is very slow going. The best part, though, are thing things I have found inside the book that Von Mises didn't put there.

I find these little bits of my folks often in their books. Crossword puzzles they clipped and used as bookmarks, grocery lists, poems. When I do, it is always a delight, and a tiny window in time, telling me what they were doing or thinking when they were reading the book I am now holding in my hand.

All this came to mind, when I was in the bookstore yesterday, and discovered, as I was looking for something else entirely, that someone has written a book about this very thing.

The cover of Michael Popek's book.

The book, by Michael Popek, is based on this enchanting idea of things "lost between the pages." It is a timely reminder of how important are books--bound, printed, and published--we have all learned from and treasured for centuries.

Yes it is true: many, many books will be read on eReaders as the days go by. Yet, I believe people will always and always read from, touch, and collect  printed, bound books. And when they do, they will also tuck things into them and these things will be found by others.

In the case of the Ludwig Von Mises book, I turned a page one night and discovered two 1995 articles from the Wall Street Journal.

"Bookmarks" I found in my father's copy of On Human Action.

Such fun to stop and think of my father, age 76, with his intellectual curiosity unimpaired yet by time, clipping these articles and tucking them in his book. One is about Japan's economy and another about a vote in the Federal Open Market Committee of the Council of Economic Advisers. I don't even know if they are relevant today. It was just a little chiaroscuro moment, where the light and shadow of my father's life lingered for a moment in my own.

And then I read on. This Von Mises stuff is heavy lifting. But I figured:  if my father could do it, so could I. Of course. Darn it.

I turned another page and found evidence that even my intellectual father, needed a break, from time to time. Tucked between the pages of the next chapter I found ...

... an article he'd clipped on Upper Body Development! It represented another of my father's many and eclectic interests, i.e. staying fit. Something that served him well until the day his body reluctantly gave out, at the age of 90.

So much to be found in books. From economic ideas we struggle through, to tales about the things we tuck in books, to the discoveries of these little insights into our loved ones' lives.

I enjoy enormously learning more about my father's life in these little traces. And though I can't imagine how he ever reached the end of the book On Human Action--I'm not sure I ever will--it is nice to know that, from time to time, he chose to set the book aside and work on his deltoids, instead of his cerebellum.

He was a man of human action, in more ways than one.

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