Sunday, June 01, 2008


Books in Heaven and Hell

Joseph Epstein, The Middle of My Tether: Familiar Essays (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983), p. 117 (essay "Bookless in Gaza"):
Allow me my major premise for a moment: if there is a Heaven, will it contain books? Or will the very need for books be expunged? In Heaven, there may be no need to read about foreign shores or treasures hitherto undreamed of. There may be no need even to dream of such treasures; they will presumably be there, on the premises, so to speak. But if there are no books in Heaven, then—as John Sparrow once remarked of Heaven if his dear friend Maurice Bowra were not there—I do not care to go. My own view is that there will be books in Heaven, but only in foreign languages, ancient and modern and even lost, all of which I shall be able to read with perfect ease.

As for Hell, will there be books there? The Abbé Mugnier, friend to Edith Wharton and the artists and intellectuals of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, was once asked if he, gentle soul that he was, believed in Hell. He said that since it was Church dogma that Hell existed, he believed in Hell, though he also believed there was no one in it. But if the sweet-natured Abbé was wrong, it seems unlikely that there will not be something to read in Hell. My own guess is that there will be no actual books, but only bound volumes of the New York Times op-ed pages.
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