Sunday Book-Thought 57

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:
the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.
With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You. Even inside this stronghold you can make some breaches in the ranks of the defenders, dividing them into New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general) and New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you), and defining the attraction they have for you on the basis of your desires and needs for the new and the not new (for the new you seek in the not new and for the not new you seek in the new).
All this simply means that, having radially glanced over the titles of the volumes displayed in the bookshop, you have turned toward a stack of If on a winter’s night a traveler fresh off the press, you have grasped a copy, and you have carried it to the cashier so that your right to own it can be established.
Italo CalvinoIf on a winter’s night a traveler, trans by William Weaver (London: Everyman’s Library, 1993; first published [Italian] Torino: Giulio Einaude editor s.p.a, 1979), pp. 5-6.

Sunday Book-Thought 56

What I have really been discussing here is story’s capacity to create a special kind of ethical discourse. Emma and Mansfield Park are novels, not philosophy, but in them the representation of human actions and especially the evaluation of the worthiness or culpability of those actions is clearly based on an ethical theory that Austen forthrightly deploys as the touchstone for her judgments about her characters’ ethical agency. To see these judgments worked out, to participate in them as readers, and to recognize them as active principles of everyday conduct rather than as yes-or-no answers to Sunday school questions about “how to be good” is to receive the kind of practice at moral deliberation that all of us need if we are to be liberated from the clichés, prejudices, catchwords, and knee-jerk reactions of everyday society.
Marshall GregoryShaped by Stories: The Ethical Power of Narratives (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), pp. 189-190.