Henry Miller and Book Shelves

“To win through by sheer force of genius is one thing; to survive and continue to create when every last door is slammed in one’s face is another. Nobody acquires genius — it is God-given. But one can acquire patience, fortitude, wisdom, understanding. Perhaps the greatest gift to love what one does whether it causes a stir or not.” Henry Miller…

My dad loved Henry Miller’s work, my mom, no. My parents always had two book shelves — my dad’s and the neutral public book case in the living room. Certain books of my dad’s NEVER sat near my mom’s books. Heaven forfend (I just wanted to write “forfend”). I don’t remember it being any other way.

In our house in Nebraska my dad and I built his office in a corner of our basement. It was a great experience for me to work with my dad every evening building the two walls. Once the studs were up, we pulled electricity through them and, naturally, as it was the 1960s, paneled them. My dad loved mahogany, so we used mahogany paneling. One wall was a wall; the other was a bookcase which we stained. My dad was a decent carpenter of the crude carpentry variety. I don’t know if he could do fancy finished carpentry, but I do know we didn’t have those tools.

My dad’s bookshelf mostly held his scientific books but also the books he’d loved when he was younger like Boccaccio’s Decameron. There was his collection of science fiction (he loved Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury) and two books by Henry Miller.

When we moved back to Colorado from Nebraska, my dad’s bookshelf was still in the basement. By then he could no longer walk up and down stairs, so if he wanted a book he sent me for it. At a certain point in my life, I guess when I was 16 and allowed to date, Henry Miller’s books appeared at eye level. How they got there? I have no idea. I guess my mom would have had to move them, but that seems unbelievable.

The two books my dad had — Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were banned in the United States because of the sexuality. While I noticed them when I was a teenager, I didn’t read them then. I read them much later. I was never that impressed by the copious sexuality in the books (it gets a little redundant and I was definitely from a different, more liberal, generation). I was impressed by the kind of thinking in the little quotation above. Most inspiring to me were his words about being a writer which I extrapolated to being an artist, for which life, with all its struggle, disappointment, joy, frustration, tedium, rapture was the artist’s workshop

Henry Miller lived a long and incredible life and knew amazing people. I really loved seeing the characterization of him in the recent Masterpiece series, The Durrells in Corfu and when the film Reds came out I was surprised and delighted to see him as part of the movie, a living voice, from the time.

If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power Henry Miller, On Turning 80

P.S. Poet friends, on the top shelf above my dad’s head you might see a pink book with a black oval on its spine. That is a rhyming dictionary. My dad yearned to be a poet.