Thursday, November 30, 2023

Quote of the Day (Andrew Ferguson, on Notes Made by Famous Readers in Their Favorite Books)

“The task of a marginalia maven is at right angles to the task of reading a book: It is an attempt to read the reader rather than to read the writer. For several decades now, scholars have been swarming the margins of books in dead people's libraries. Those margins are among the most promising sites of ‘textual activity,’ to use the scholar's clinical phrase—a place to explore, analyze, and, it is hoped, find new raw material for the writing of dissertations. Famous readers whose libraries have fallen under such scrutiny include Melville and Montaigne, Machiavelli and Mark Twain.”— American journalist and author Andrew Ferguson, “Nixon Between the Lines,” The Atlantic, October 2023

I came upon this article several weeks ago and set it aside for future reference. Early last night, I became intrigued by Ferguson’s opening paragraphs: his discovery of Richard Nixon’s books in the late President’s library and museum in Yorba Linda, CA.

An inveterate reader, Nixon engaged heavily in these materials, becoming a counterpart to the famous authors that Ferguson mentioned as scribbling in margins. One book the disgraced ex-President digested in his unwanted retirement deeply annoyed him with its revelation that in 1969, his then-National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, had ridiculed him “in private conversation with liberal friends.”

Irony of ironies: even as Ferguson was researching his biography of Nixon among these previously unsampled books, Kissinger himself was appearing at the Nixon Library to promote his own latest book, Leadership, in which he had praised his old boss.

A further irony of ironies: only a few hours after reading about this conjunction of events, I found on the Internet that the man Ferguson called “the 20th century’s only celebrity diplomat” had passed away, at age 100.

Somewhere in the afterlife, I suspect, Nixon and Henry the K are going to have a very long conversation.

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