Last week I told you about my birthday cakes and fireworks, but over time, my birthday parties have changed. Now my favorite thing for a birthday party is to go to the bookstore and wander the bookshelves and see what I can find. So Friday, we went on a Bookstore Crawl. It’s not as mellifluous as the term pub crawl and it didn’t involve alcohol, but it was more to my taste. Two bookstores and lunch at a favorite place in San Antonio, where we ordered much too much food.

I appreciate different things in different places to buy books. In Barnes and Noble, I tend to go to my usual areas and look for new books by favorite authors or look at something unexpected that catches my eye. On Friday we went to a new independent bookstore in San Antonio, the Nowhere Bookstore. It’s a lovely space, with a large children’s section, and a good variety of sections. But, of course, not nearly as many sections as many books as at Barnes and Noble. In a small independent or an airport bookstore, I rely upon serendipity. I wander around and see what catches my attention. (I use Amazon or for specific titles that I’m looking for. It saves a great deal of time.)

But the wandering and the serendipity are how I came home with a book by Paul McCarney entitled, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present. I’m fascinated by the creative process and loved watching the Hulu series McCartney 3, 2, 1 as he and producer Rick Rubin broke down many of the Beatles’ songs and discussed how they reached final form. I also got a book called The Creative Art: A Way of Being because it caught my attention. (I’d never heard of it, but have since seen it on Amazon.) And I learned as I wrote this newsletter that this book was written by the same person who partnered with McCartney on that show. Serendipity, indeed. I can imagine these might be interesting to read in tandem.

Of course the other place that works for a Bookstore Crawl is the library. And the book I want to share with you today came to me by way of my mom checking it out of the library. She plowed through its 699 pages in a couple of days, it took me a bit longer when I checked it out after she was done with it.

The book is Journeys of the Mind: A Life In History, by historian Peter Brown. The Amazon description of the book is included below. What I want to share with you are some of the lessons that stood out for me from this fascinating book.

What was most impressive to me may not have been what he intended to share, but the entire book is an illustration of the work of a true scholar over his life time and of the way his brain works, the way he moved from one scholarly topic to another. Readers can see his willingness to learn new ideas, to change his old ideas when he found new information, and his ability to incorporate multiple ideas across time – both the time of his life and the centuries he was studying.

He developed new skills from a variety of disciplines and applied them to his studies. He adapted those skills to bring new insights to old topics. Apparently, he has a facility with languages, learning new ones as needed to read materials in their original form. I lost track of how many he learned, but was intrigued when he added Coptic to the list going way outside the Romance languages.

Unlike the proverbial professor with his yellowed handwritten lecture notes used year after year, Brown adapted his teaching as much as he did his scholarship as he moved from Oxford to London University, Berkeley, and later Princeton. With each move he worked in a different environment with a different style of teaching. He learned new ways of interacting with students and he made changes to his areas of interest and took on new topics as he moved through his career. I’d never heard of Professor Peter Brown before and I’m sorry I never shared a campus with him. I imagine it would be wonderful to sit in on one of his lectures.

A book I never heard of about a professor, I never knew about has become the book I keep recommending to people even though I know it won’t be every one’s cup of tea.

If you haven’t been on a book crawl through the shelves of the library or a different bookstore than your usual one, I highly recommend it. You never know what treasures you’ll find.

Happy hunting!


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