Ex Libris Kirkland

Ex Libris Kirkland is my self-centered way to keep track of what I read, what I like, and what I want to remember.


Recently Quoted

  • In this place I may as well jot down a chapter concerning those necessary nuisances, European guides. Many a man has wished in his heart he could do without his guide; but knowing he could not, has wished he could get some amusement out of him as a remuneration for the affliction of his society. We accomplished this latter matter, and if our experience can be made useful to others they are welcome to it.

    Guides know about enough English to tangle every thing up so that a man can make neither head or tail of it. They know their story by heart--the history of every statue, painting, cathedral or other wonder they show you. They know it and tell it as a parrot would--and if you interrupt, and throw them off the track, they have to go back and begin over again. All their lives long, they are employed in showing strange things to foreigners and listening to their bursts of admiration. It is human nature to take delight in exciting admiration. It is what prompts children to say “smart” things, and do absurd ones, and in other ways “show off” when company is present. It is what makes gossips turn out in rain and storm to go and be the first to tell a startling bit of news. Think, then, what a passion it becomes with a guide, whose privilege it is, every day, to show to strangers wonders that throw them into perfect ecstasies of admiration! He gets so that he could not by any possibility live in a soberer atmosphere. After we discovered this, we never went into ecstasies any more--we never admired any thing--we never showed any but impassible faces and stupid indifference in the presence of the sublimest wonders a guide had to display. We had found their weak point. We have made good use of it ever since. We have made some of those people savage, at times, but we have never lost our own serenity.

    an excerpt from The Innocents Abroad, written by Mark Twain in 1869

  • At the head of the collections in the palaces of Rome, the Vatican, of course, with its treasures of art, its enormous galleries, and staircases, and suites upon suites of immense chambers, ranks highest and stands foremost. Many most noble statues, and wonderful pictures, are there; nor is it heresy to say that there is a considerable amount of rubbish there, too. When any old piece of sculpture dug out of the ground, finds a place in a gallery because it is old, and without any reference to its intrinsic merits: and finds admirers by the hundred, because it is there, and for no other reason on earth: there will be no lack of objects, very indifferent in the plain eyesight of any one who employs so vulgar a property, when he may wear the spectacles of Cant for less than nothing, and establish himself as a man of taste for the mere trouble of putting them on.

    I unreservedly confess, for myself, that I cannot leave my natural perception of what is natural and true, at a palace-door, in Italy or elsewhere, as I should leave my shoes if I were travelling in the East. I cannot forget that there are certain expressions of face, natural to certain passions, and as unchangeable in their nature as the gait of a lion, or the flight of an eagle. I cannot dismiss from my certain knowledge, such commonplace facts as the ordinary proportion of men’s arms, and legs, and heads; and when I meet with performances that do violence to these experiences and recollections, no matter where they may be, I cannot honestly admire them, and think it best to say so; in spite of high critical advice that we should sometimes feign an admiration, though we have it not.

    an excerpt from Pictures from Italy, written by Charles Dickens in 1844

  • Below the church of San Sebastiano, two miles beyond the gate of San Sebastiano, on the Appian Way, is the entrance to the catacombs of Rome—quarries in the old time, but afterwards the hiding-places of the Christians. These ghastly passages have been explored for twenty miles; and form a chain of labyrinths, sixty miles in circumference.

    an excerpt from Pictures from Italy, written by Charles Dickens in 1844

Recently Noted

  • I should read more Twain - he's really funny. The travelogue doesn't have any of the weird midwestern / huckleberry stuff I don't like.

    an note about The Innocents Abroad, written by Mark Twain in 1869

  • File under: another great book that I've never read. Actually, I didn't even know the plot of the Scarlet Letter, not even close! Here's what I knew: there is a woman, who is going to have an affair, and the woman will forced to wear a shame-inducing red A on her chest. We will sympathize with the woman, and revile basically everybody else in the book.

    What I did not know was that all of that happens before the book starts, and that there's a 60-page prologue about Hawthorne working in a customs house. This was, in its entirety, a delightful surprise. I had NO idea what to expect, or where the plot was going to lead.

    We did, of course, sympathize with the woman (Hester Prynne, I learned her name!), and revile the men (those guys, whatever). I did NOT anticipate Hester being such a pure, Dickensian-like heroine - she could practically swapped out with Little Dorrit and the book wouldn't be that different, despite her putative stain of the scarlet letter.

    I also had no inkling of Pearl before I read this, Hester's daughter (again, she shows up in literally the first scene of the book). She was a fun addition, and I assume she became a prototype of the elfin mischievous too-honest moppet characters that follow her in literature.

    an note about The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850

  • A duller Melville, this one was clearly written to please contemporary audiences and stoke some patriotic fervor. It tells the fictionalized story of Israel Potter, an innocent manly farmer who suffers Odyssean setbacks and trials in the service of the newly-born United States.

    Weirdly, only a few of the fifty years of exile are told in the book - Potter has adventure after adventure. He fights in Bunker Hill. He meets George Washington, Ben Franklin, King George, John Paul Jones, Ethan Allen, and more - but all in a space of a few years. The additional time he was a pauper in England, suffering incognito.

    an note about His Fifty Years of Exile, written by Herman Melville in 1855

Looking for more recent books? Check out the Personal Timeline.



Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
Interested in talking about it?
Get in touch. You might also want to check out my other projects or say hello on twitter.