What are your “comfort books”? You know, those books that make you feel all warm and cozy, like a good meatloaf or bowl of soup?
It could be a classic novel, scary story, or atmospheric mystery. Or maybe a compelling tale of history or travel. How about an inspirational or spiritual book? If you’re a sports fan, maybe it’s a story about your favorite team.
I have comfort books that fit into most of these categories.
But in a confession of my free fall into complete geekdom, I’ll share one that I’m guessing you haven’t heard of before. It’s an intellectual history book, Men of Learning at the End of the Middle Ages (2000), by French historian Jacques Verger. I spied it at a bookstore over a decade ago, and it looked interesting enough to take a flier on it.
Men of Learning looks at how educated European men of the 14th and 15th centuries — mostly scholars, teachers, lawyers, doctors, clergy, and bureaucrats — contributed to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.
Verger combed through a lot of libraries and archives to be able to share, for example, the numbers of volumes in the private libraries of well-known and not-so-well-known individuals of the era. The Gutenberg printing press did not come along until the 1440s, which meant that printed books were precious, and that books written out by copyists were still quite popular. A personal library of even a few dozen or so volumes was considered an impressive (and monetarily valuable) intellectual endowment.
Today, libraries of major research universities contains millions of books and countless other print resources, not to mention access to even more via online resources. In the late Middle Ages, however, even the libraries of great medieval universities typically numbered in the hundreds(!) of volumes. I probably shouldn’t get too big headed over the fact that my personal library contains more books than that of the entire Oxford University library during the early 1400s, especially given that volumes such as Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader are a part of mine, but I still think it’s pretty neat.
Oops, I’m already getting carried away! Why does Men of Learning resonate with me as a comfort book? Probably because it connects with a big part of who I am, someone who revels in books and learning.
Your comfort books may be much different than mine — I don’t expect a run on Men of Learning because of this blog post — but that’s fine and dandy with me. Read and enjoy.