Treasures, Literary and Otherwise

While I wouldn’t count a generous wage as one of the perks of working at a little library, the benefits are incomparable: kindergarteners who sit at my desk and ask the sharpest (and funniest) questions, then inquire about the status of my gum supply; a light-filled space; unfettered access to inter-library loan; and a mound of donated books for our sale.

Rummaging through the remainders, I pulled out books for people. T. C Boyle novels for a single father, John Holt for a homeschooling family, Reviving Ophelia for a mother of a teenage daughter, herbal remedies for a college student.

These early mornings, I’ve been reading Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ The Harmless People about the Bushmen, in an old Vintage paperback from the fifties, not at all glossy, but practically and well-designed, a book that fits easily into, say, a briefcase or diaper bag.

Here’s a paragraph that illustrates how beautifully and lovingly written is this gem.

Before they went to sleep that night, the two men accepted a bucketful of water as a present. The bucket they would return, but the water was for them alone, an enormous present in the desert, for which they were very grateful. They began to drink from it, scooping the water up with their hands and, later, lifting the bucket to drink from its rim. After that they lay down, naked as they were on the bare ground, close to the fire, with their knees bent, letting as much skin as possible be exposed to the heat. The warm smoke and ashes blew over them and they went to sleep on their sides as Bushmen always must, with one ear on the ground but with the other up and listening, to hear what comes along. Because it was cold they woke up often, and every time they woke they drank, so in the morning only the bottom of the pail had water in it, frozen into a circle of ice.


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