A Farewell to Ernest

Then in the late summer of that year there was reading, much reading of many books, and many of them were fine books. Some of the books we read were to be written about, and some of the books were just for fun, and some of the books were to be taught. The books were stacked in piles around the house and the office, on the tables and chairs and on the desks, and their pages were dry and white and papery and fine. Many of the books were fine.

The books were rich with ideas; they spoke of women who got in trouble and died, and women who just got lost, and they spoke too of smart, tough girls who saved many lives, some of them their own. But some of the books were not so kind to the women they spoke of, and some of the books were a pain to read, for that reason.

And then in the early fall of that year, as the fire raged in the hills and a dry sooty ash slipped in around the windows and settled over the piles of books, and as the fire began to be brought under control, it came time for us to read a book that was not so fine, at least not in our reading of it, and that produced a dreadful loneliness and despair, and we soothed the despair with a fine cold gin martini. Because there are some books to which a reader must bring much intelligence, and if people bring so much intelligence to these books the books have to kill them to break them, so of course they kill them. These books break every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break they kill. They kill the very good and the very gentle and the very smart impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure they will kill you too but they will be in no special hurry.

It was only too late when we realized that we controlled the syllabus. That book is over for us now. We are through. We wish the others all the luck, the good ones, and the brave ones, and the calm ones and the smart ones. But it is not our book anymore. Goodbye to the book.

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