Books On My Shelf:  Why They Are There, Part 1
by Jeff Lewis

This is the first in an ongoing series that delves into the contents of the bookshelf in my cluttered office, in an attempt to answer the question, “Why is this still sitting here?”  Admittedly, this is not a timeless or pressing question like, “Why is there war?”, “Why bother with cabbage?” or “If the Creator has a Master Plan, how do you account for Rod Stewart?”.  These questions are too big to tackle, so I need to aim lower.  My bookshelf is as good a place to start as any.

Obesity and Depression in the Enlightenment: The Life and Times of George Cheyne, by Anita Guerrini.

Waiters tend to show solidarity to fellow food servers through over-tipping.  A similar compulsion prompted me to buy this book, which I never really intended to read.  Anita Guerrini is a professor I know at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) who specializes in—among other things—people’s diets in early modern Europe and women’s roles in the anti-vivisection movement.  As you can tell, she also has a knack for the catchy title, a trait lacking among most historians.

After I wisely dropped out of the UCSB history of science program in 1997, my ties to the study of history faded.  Over the next couple of years, I periodically checked to see if the professors that I’d studied with had produced any books.  This was the first that I came across, so its purchase became my show of solidarity, ensuring that at least one copy of the book resided outside of a university library or a graduate student’s tattered black shoulder bag.  I was thankful that the book wasn’t about the history of vivisection, which is a topic that I cannot stomach.  Also, it didn’t hurt that the book had such a flashy title, one that spices up any bookshelf.

Ironically, it’s impossible to see the book’s title now, because it is gift-wrapped.  I gave the book to my niece Emily for Christmas a few years back, but she didn’t appreciate it.  She was eleven, so I understood. I took it back, rewrapped it and it’s now waiting for the right recipient.  Who knows, now that Emily is thirteen, it might finally make a good Christmas present.

Because the book is gift-wrapped I can’t remember what it’s about, so I looked up its description on Amazon.com.  The passage is a little cryptic, but here it is:

Tipping in at 450 pounds, English doctor Cheyne (1673-1743) was able if anyone [sic] to embody the contradictions and obsessions of the Enlightenment.  Guerrini … describes how he advocated moderation, admired Newton, wrote on mathematics and natural philosophy, linked mysticism and science, and invented the all-lettuce diet.

After reading this, I feel that I should unwrap the book and find out more about this all-lettuce diet.

Lonely Planet Guide to Montreal

I didn’t realize this at the time of purchase, but I know someone involved in the publishing of this book, as well.  However, that had nothing to do with this book’s life on my shelf.  I own this book because I felt compelled to see a Montreal Expos home game before they moved out of Montreal.  The Expos’ home field, Olympic Stadium, is widely regarded as the worst in Major League Baseball (MLB), they have the worst attendance and are one of the worst teams.  The experience of watching a game at Olympic Stadium is reputed to be so bad that MLB decided to schedule a quarter of the Expos’ home games in Puerto Rico, rather than subject Montreal fans to a full slate.  I looked forward to sitting behind the dugout in a nearly empty stadium, listening to the players chat on the bench.

In the middle of the 2003 baseball season, MLB executives threatened to relocate the team to Washington, D.C., which would spell the end of Les Expos.  Near the close of that season, the Expos played the feeble Milwaukee Brewers, in what promised to be the most unmemorable series in baseball history.  I wanted to watch the most unremarkable teams play out the string in the worst ballpark in the Majors.  My lovely wife indulged this ridiculous wish, so I bought the Lonely Planet guide to plan the trip.

We didn’t have enough vacation time to properly explore Quebec, so we basically were going to fly out just to watch a couple of horrible games.  Not long into the planning process, I came to my senses and we avoided spending a grand or two on this quixotic weekend getaway.

On September 27, MLB announced that the Expos will become the Washington Senators after the end of this season.  Alas, the opportunity to see Les Expos is gone forever, but I’m sure a few thousand French Canadians would tell me that I didn’t miss much.  Anyway, we all need to learn to live with disappointment.

Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2004