Some Books Are to Be Tasted

In Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, the plaque on the door to Mo’s bookbinding workshop bears the legend:

Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly. 

Now just about anyone who has completed a Brit Lit I course (or had to teach one), will recognize this as a paraphrase from Francis Bacon (philosopher, not painter). The whole thing, from his essay On Studies goes like this:

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. 

It’s great that Funke, in a book-obsessed book, would include this allusion to Bacon, but is a footnote too much to ask? If you plug the first bit of the quote into Google, you get quite a few references to Funke’s novel, but you have to dig a bit to find it attributed to Bacon. Foucault and Barthes would take this as a fine, post-structuralist proof of the death of the author. Which I accept up to a point.

Maybe it’s pedantic quibbling, but it makes me a little anxious that readers are erroneously attributing something from an important philosopher to a contemporary YA writer. I strongly favor literary allusion – I wouldn’t be able to stomach two of my favorite YA authors, Phillip Pullman and Cassandra Clare, if I were opposed to allusion, and I recognize that text gets loose in the world, but in this instance I think we’re witnessing a certain laziness and lack of sophistication on the part of readers, and also poor attribution on the part of the author and editor.

Or perhaps all the hoo-ha over this week’s release of New Moon has made me grumpy.

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2 thoughts on “Some Books Are to Be Tasted

  1. Kudos, Spencer. I was trying to remember the author of this specific quote for a work I’m doing, and I knew the top ten google results that attributed this quote to Funke were incorrect. The quote slightly older than 2003. Fortunately, further digging brought me here to this very article, with the correct attribution. Thank you doubly, for answering my question, and for pointing out the truth about the quote. Better to be a correct pedant than to be incorrect.

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