The tradition I was born into was essentially nomadic, a herdsmen tradition, following animals across the earth. The bookshops are a form of ranching; instead of herding cattle, I herd books. Writing is a form of herding, too; I herd words into little paragraph-like clusters.
I make my share of mistakes, but one I never make is to underestimate the power of things. People imbued from childhood with the myth of the primacy of feeling seldom like to admit they really want things as much as they might want love, but my career has convinced me that plenty of them do. And some want things a lot worse than they want love.
Though loyal and able and brave, Pea had never displayed the slightest ability to learn from his experience, though his experience was considerable. Time and again he would walk up on the wrong side of a horse that was known to kick, and then look surprised when he got kicked.
I remember that the single most vicious letter I ever read was the letter Hemingway wrote Scribners when they asked him to give a blurb for From Here to Eternity. It's there, in the Selected Letters for all to read, an example of a once great writer at his very worst. I doubt that he ever forgave Scribners for publishing James Jones in the first place. War, as Hemingway saw it, belonged to him.
Call listened with amusement--not that the incident hadn't been terrible. Being decapitated was a grisly fate, whether you were a Yankee or not. But then, amusing things happened in battle, as they did in the rest of life. Some of the funniest things he had ever witnessed had occurred during battles. He had always found it more satisfying to laugh on a battlefield than anywhere else, for if you lived to laugh on a battlefield, you could feel you had earned the laugh. But if you just laughed in a saloon, or at a social, the laugh didn't reach deep.
Call saw that everyone was looking at him, the hands and cowboys and townspeople alike. The anger had drained out of him, leaving him feeling tired. He didn't remember the fight, particularly, but people were looking at him as if they were stunned. He felt he should make some explanation, though it seemed to him a simple situation. "I hate a man that talks rude," he said. "I won't tolerate it.
Most young dealers of the Silicon Chip Era regard a reference library as merely a waste of space. Old Timers on the West Coast seem to retain a fondness for reference books that goes beyond the practical. Everything there is to know about a given volume may be only a click away, but there are still a few of us who'd rather have the book than the click. A bookman's love of books is a love of books, not merely of the information in them.
Working- and Middle-class families sat down at the dinner table every night - the shared meal was the touchstone of good manners. Indeed, that dinner table was the one time when we were all together, every day: parents, grandparents, children, siblings. Rudeness between siblings, or a failure to observe the etiquette of passing dishes to one another, accompanied by "please" and "thank you," was the training ground of behavior, the place where manners began.
I'm glad I've been wrong enough to keep in practice. . . You can't avoid it, you've got to learn to handle it. If you only come face to face with your own mistakes once or twice in your life it's bound to be extra painful. I face mine every day--that way they ain't usually much worse than a dry shave.