A Short Report From The Basement Of The Portland Public Library

I’m in Maine this weekend, visiting my mother. Today I drove into Portland. I spent an hour browsing at Casanova Comics, and then walked over to this library, where I used to spend a great deal of time as a kid. I took myself to the periodicals floor, picked out a library table and sat down. There were three books left behind. The first was A Handy Guide For Beggars, by Vachel Lindsay. The second was George Orwell’s Such, Such Were The Joys. Irish Wit was the third, by Sean McCann (not the Wesleyan American Studies/English professor).

I like to play at bibliomancy. Here are some excerpts from all three, selected at random by flipping the book open.

Let all the readers of this tale who hope to become Gentleman of the Road take off collars and cuffs, throw their purses into the ditch, break their china, and drink their coffee from tinware to the health of Mr. Shark, our friend with the apple-green eyes. Yea, my wanderers, the cure for the broken heart is gratitude to the gentleman you would hate, if you had your collar on or your purse in your pocket when you met him. Though there was heavy betting against him, he becomes the Hero in a whirlwind finish. Patriarch and Flagman disputing for a second, decision for Flagman. —A Handy Guide For Beggars

This is a political age. War, fascism, concentration camps, rubber truncheons, atomic bombs, etc., are what we daily think about, and therefore to a great extent what we write about, even when we do not name them openly. We cannot help this. When you are on a sinking ship, your thoughts will be about sinking ships. But not only is our subject matter narrowed, our whole attitude towards literature is coloured by loyalties which we at least intermittently realise to be nonliterary. –“Writers and Leviathan”, Such, Such Were The Days

Father Healy, on his Bray parishioners:

An ideal crowd — the poor keep all the fasts and the rich keep all the feasts. —Irish Wit and Wisdom

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