In the spring of 2001, a dear friend of mine died unexpectedly. While clearing out his apartment with a few close friends, I noticed that he had one shelf of special books on the wall of his bedroom. I knew they must have been his favorites because even though the rest of his apartment was crammed with books, on this one small shelf I recognized several titles that he had recommended to me over the years. From this eclectic mix of fiction, philosophy, education, and autobiography, each of the books that he had loaned me had been extraordinary, and had introduced me to some of my most favorite authors and ideas.
Somewhere in an old box of 35mm slides, I have a picture that I took of his shelf before we boxed up the books. I picked out a few to keep, and then we donated the rest to charity.
One of these books that has languished on my shelf until now is The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova. Have you read it? Much more than just the exaggerations of a wealthy womanizer, it is a lavish 1700's autobiography, part travelogue and part trickster-tales, overflowing with impossible romance and adventure. Could the life of Jacques Casanova possibly be any more different from that of a 21st Century frugal, faithful, forty-something L.A. mom with a minivan?! Although I am not escaping from the Inquisition, seducing my way across Europe, gambling, masquerading, dropping diamonds, dueling and duping princes and popes, I sure am having fun reading about it.
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes so far:
(As Casanova is arrested in Venice by the Inquisition)
There were about forty archers outside the door, which showed they expected some difficulty in arresting me! Two would have been enough. It is odd that in London, where every one is brave, one can arrest another single-handed. Among cowards thirty are not considered too many: it is, perhaps, because the coward turned assailant is more frightened than the coward whom he assails!
This archer is neither Venetian nor 18th C.
(After meeting a beautiful French woman)
A letter of recommendation written by the Graces on the forehead of Beauty is never dishonoured, for every one who has his eyes and a heart pays on sight.
My favorite 18th C. French beauty, Quentin de la Tour
So, tell me please, what books are on your special shelf?