Freshly Picked/Well-Preserved: On Books, Cathedrals, and Other Sustenance

Freshly Picked/Well-Preserved: On Books, Cathedrals, and Other Sustenance

 

     In his prolific diaries, Count Harry Kessler (1868 to 1937), the German diplomat and connoisseur of all things sophisticated, made the observation that one should revisit the most affecting works of art at different stages of life, for they will change “like medieval cathedrals at different times of day.”
     When I reread books that once galvanized me, I occasionally find that their impact has softened with time, like long-ago lovers now most intense in the memory of what they once were. For instance, it’s hard to imagine the surreal, brightly-colored candy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas tasting any better than it did at eighteen years old; likewise, years of seasoning are often required in order to enhance the subtler, more complex flavors of novels like Peter Stamm’s Seven Years.
     Most special of all are those novels that, like Kessler’s medieval cathedrals, reveal and reflect and resonate differently—and all the more powerfully for it–with each new visit. For in the words of one of my favorite poets, Franz Wright:
Life has taught me to understand books.
St. Paul’s Cathedral during the London Blitz (1940)