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An Unexpected Haven

Masters of persuasion like William Phelps are well versed in the values and sensibilities
of men and women- they know that transcending logic and reason, emotions ultimately constitute
decisions. William Lyon Phelps was an author and scholar at Yale University during the time that
German Nazis began systematically burning books that challenged their ideals. His speech, The
Pleasure of Books, touches his audiences emotions by contrasting books and people, presenting
literature as the higher source of comfort and reliance. By associating books with common
emotional desires- a sense of belonging, familiarity, and constancy- he places literatures power
above that of human companionship, forcing his audience to question who and what they rely on.
Phelps uses the image of a home to illustrate the ability books have to create a warm, safe
environment. Whether the house becomes a home depends on the relationship between owner
and book. An unappreciated book is like a guest in the house; it must be treated with
punctiliousness, with a certain sense of formality. Phelps associates this with the image of
bookshelves with doors, glass windows, and keys, rather than open and inviting shelves. In
contrast, when one takes pride in the ownership of books and keeps them accessible, it is like
being surrounded with intimate friends rather than guests. He paints a beautiful picture of a
home decorated with books, lit by firelight, adorned with separate colors, designs, and
personalities. The contrast between house and home, guest and friend, sheds a unique light on
literature. His audience no longer views books as objects, but as a source of comfort and
The familiarity between book and owner can lead to self-discovery if one takes pride in
the ownership of it. Conversely, if a book is treated as borrowed, you cannot mark it, cannot
turn down the pages you are afraid to place [it] on the table, wide open and face down.
Nothing can be discovered if a relationship isnt developed, just as a friend cannot be made if all
conversations are detached and formal. Treating books with affectionate intimacy, brutalizing
the pages you love most, turning down corners, and filling margins is the best way to achieve
familiarity that will result in not only a friend, but an ageless source of reliability. Phelps
compares it to visiting a forest where you once blazed a trail and recalling both the
intellectual scenery and your own earlier self. Unlike people, no matter how intimate, only
books can reflect ones character, soul, and development, all available at the turn of a page.

Book friends, as Phelps puts it, are the immortal part of history. He admits that in
many ways, books cant compare to living, breathing, corporeal mean and women, but
emphasizes the timelessness of literature by mentioning Socrates, Shakespeare, Dumas, and
Dickens, all ageless, beloved writers on which it depends. Friends and acquaintances, we cannot
always see them. Perchance they are asleep, or away on a journey. But these writers will always
be on your shelf, the pages of their words representing their ultimate best self, and waiting for a
reader to find themselves in. The great dead are beyond our physical reach, and the great living
are almost as inaccessible. But referring to great writers and philosophers, Phelps declares that,
They wrote for you, solidifying the emotional connection between his audience and the
unswerving books they read.
In his time of political and social chaos, Phelps recognized the necessity of books
because they provide a home, a familiar and reliable source, and unbroken loyalty. His purpose,
to illuminate one of the greatest resources of mankind, is achieved by illustrating people as
imperfect and inconsistent compared to books- inanimate, yet infinitely important objects that
bring complete assurance and hope.