I went to my local library’s book sale yesterday. I can’t seem to stay away from these things, even though my bookshelves groan under the load of all the books I’ve managed to pick up over the years.
I really didn’t intend to pick up more than one or two books if I found something interesting, but am armload of books later I was on my way home. One of the books I picked up was called The Art of Thinking by someone named Ernest Dimnet. It was from the now-defunct Fawcett Publishing, part of a series called their “World Books” program, released in 1969. The book had been written in the 1920’s, I believe.
I’ve never heard of Dimnet, or this book, but once I sat down with it I was entranced. Dimnet’s Old World literary style (he was French), with his frequent references to authors long forgotten, show just how well read he was. It combines some techniques that would be at home in any self-help book today such as visualization, as well as pinches of philosophy and advice on how to access your authentic voice as an artist.
All delivered in a prose that is from a century ago, but still understandable and capable of transmitting it’s most important ideas. Dimnet was obviously a very well-traveled person, and one who knew quite a few of the literary lights of his day. Upon researching a little bit about him online, I was surprised to find out he was a priest – his writing about very sensitive and ethereal subjects stays grounded in the secular.
It is a perfect example of how good writing holds up. It made me realize what we’ve lost in communication since we don’t really put much effort into things anymore. Dimnet and his generation took books seriously, and didn’t just read them, they thought about them and digested their ideas, using that as fuel for their own self-expression.
And nearly 100 years after it was written, it still holds up. I doubt our blogs and Tweets will do the same. It kind of makes you long for the heft of a hardcover book and the smell of musty paper.