by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s Program Note.
First there was the thunderclap, sharp, unyielding sound overawing all, pulling me anxious from my bed; to be swiftly followed by a cascade of erratic sound, my sundered rest punctured by noises that made the end of the world seem puny and insignificant by comparison. I was alone and soon to be unhappy, bereft, no comfort, my world altered forever.
This is the story of what happened just the other day. I know that sympathetic folk worldwide will join me in my lamentation… for this is a tale any one of us could have penned and which all of us might easily share and could as easily experience.
I call it Ex Libris, and it is a sad tale.
“84 Charing Cross Road”
If you’re a Bibliophile like I am, I don’t have to introduce you to this cinema classic released in 1987. It features an adamant, opinionated, chain-smoking, wise-cracking, irreverent New York writer (is there any other kind?) expertly played by Anne Bancroft (1931-2005), a lady in love with books, the more obscure and esoteric the better. Her correspondent is a soft-spoken London-based expert in finding out-of-print English books. (perfectly rendered by Sir Anthony Hopkins b. 1937).
He has at first no clue quite how to handle this rather alarming customer; then discovers that she is what all writers and lovers of language require, a Kindred Spirit, puckish, golden hearted, honest to a fault, friend, jousting companion, lover of words, lover of those who shape these words, dram at the ready but never to excess; willing to let the rest of us into their enthralling lives, changing us forever, even the ones who bathe infrequently and are too vocal about their ill-considered (and frequently
I had absolutely no trouble adhering to the rites and precise rituals of their arcane mysteries, not just in London either, but New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Oxford, Chicago. Chicago?
Purists may wrinkle their fastidious noses but, yes, Chicago where I sprawled for hours (age 12 or so, thank you very much) in the magic caverns tottering in unimaginably lofty formations on Clark Street. Yes, Chicago, “my kind of town, Chicago is” where I often heard my mother warn me that I could have all the books I could carry but not one more. Then hear my practised wheedling for more and still more, for my mother believed in the curative powers of disintegrating fine tooled leathers and the cats which could lead you if they would to wondrous editions not yet found by my tardy and less persistent competitors. Yes, Chicago, too, by all means, and proudly.
Where have these discriminating tabbies and their erudite successors gone? I feel guilty and ashamed that I don’t know, such is the undeniable pull of these establishments and their silky inhabitants down my ages. Forgive me!
I know now what I could hardly even imagine then; that I was either born with or early acquired the unquestioned demeanor and certain stance and undoubted swagger of a Bibliophile. That is to say, I was a lad for whom doors were open wherever I went, wherever books in all their aspects and appurtenances were favored, as they were widely and worldwide.
Unfavored school mates and taunting cousins (self designated sans peur et sans reproche, especially if a grid iron and locker room were involved) might deride, but they would do so at their considerable risk and undoing. Bibliophiles, remember, have the benefits of deep memory and the certainty that revenge is a dish best tasted cold.
In those long-ago days I brought home a steady stream of prizes with resounding names, grandiose certificates, the letters patent of our realm, and even Yankee cash on the barrel head. Such unanticipated (to them), irritating developments, which caused my more brawny, athletic peers to rethink their positions, and (no matter how reluctantly) to treat me with the reverence and veneration I so richly deserved. Parents of such sad scoffers might be heard, and in public, too, intoning this righteous sentiment: “Why can’t you be a scholar like Jeffrey?,” words which no doubt enlivened and encouraged the sorry lot. Their roles in life have no doubt been the better for it.
Every click a diminishment, a certain loss, a looming tragedy.
I live in the middle of the greatest constellation of words in the Great Republic, Fair Harvard and dozens of institutions of higher and other learning, over 70 such institutions just minutes away, the whole one of the greatest achievements of our species and a light to people everywhere who appreciate and advocate humane values and a world of peace, serenity, fairness, and equality, the hallmarks of this special place and its abiding message to the ages.
Generations from now historians and other researchers into our past will call this the Golden Age, the final days of what we have worked so diligently for a thousand years to create, foster, and maintain, including language and the books which enshrine it forever.
The proven vandals, the assured barbarians are not just at the gate, they are placed within our glorious precincts by our very children, placed here by committed parental thrift and scrimping; each more adept than the one before in their proven ways to eradicate what we have so loved, supported and honored; imposing standards which are no standards at all.
Come to Cambridge, to Harvard. The future is breaking here like a brand new, unwelcome dawn. As if by wizard’s wand, institutions once boasting that they were citadels of progress and the liberal arts now are teetering on the knife edge of extinction; buildings gone, faculties dismissed, the very idea of liberal arts and progress derided and dismissed; the potent weapons click by click on the agile fingertips of the young and careless, are dooming not just multitudes, useless cargo on Spaceship Earth, but our very species. Truly Father forgive them for they know not…
I’m forced to join the revolution
I have for the last many years, harbored a guilty secret. I cannot bear to send my books to other homes and foreign shores. I hide them in places where even I forget, but better work of literature misplaced by sympathetic hands than gone forever, a sacrifice to the savages and their wanton ways.
The books that fell were a small part of the thousands of books which have found sanctuary here and over the course of my entire life. They were stacked and crammed and buried and pushed and shoe-horned into a space sustained by the thickest of woods, mahoganey. Now and again I would look at them and sigh, for like “Sophie’s Choice” (1979) by William Styron, I knew I would have to make a decision, and that the decision would be unwelcome, whatever I decided to do.
And so, God stepped in, impatient with my inability to decide, and said, as sure as he’d send a telegram, “Clear the shelves of these books!” And He did.
Thus, my precious books, though only a few hundred of the total inventory, were marked for extinction, coming in the shape of the Goodwill truck from Somerville. They have pestered me often for them, and now, at last, they shall have their way. Of course I feel terribly, which is silly, isn’t it? Because as my assistant, Kris McNamara said as he helped me pick up the fruit of generations, “Everything you want is on the internet anyway, what’s the big deal?” But then, he is only 33, and can scarcely remember anything the outrage that I have lived with for so long. And so we in our turn shall be forgotten, too.
The Goodwill truck will come, life will go on, though admittedly altered and lessened. As for me, I have hidden as many of them as I can, in places no one would ever look. You see, I shall not go down without a fight, all flags flying, every page intact, every word. For even if I become known as the last man of suitable standards and goals, I shall accept that title, that honor, with gladness and pride, the stearnest demeanor… for even then there will be hope.
Whether you have seen “84 Charing Cross Road” before (lucky), or, whether this is your first time seeing this magnificient film (lucky), this distinctly moving film, I advise you to go to any search engine and watch it. In the meantime, here is the film score to whet your appetite:
In some ways, technology is a blessing.
About the author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 57 books, and counting. For information about his oeuvre, go to:
Remember, even rich and successful authors derive acute satisfaction from letters of ebullient content and affection.