Welcome to Crusoe’s Books

After I had been there about Ten or Twelve days, it came into my Thoughts that I should lose my Reckoning of Time for want of Books and Pen and Ink, and should even forget the Sabbath Days from the working Days; but to prevent this, I cut it with my Knife upon a large Post, in Capital Letters; and making it into a great Cross, I set it up on the Shore where I first landed, viz., I came on Shore here the 30th of Sept. 1659 . . . .  among the many things which I brought out of the Ship in the several Voyages, which, as above mentioned, I made to it, I got several things of less Value, but not all less useful to me, which I omitted setting down before; as in particular, Pens, Ink, and Paper, several parcels in the Captain’s, Mate’s, Gunner’s, and Carpenter’s keeping, three or four Compasses, some Mathematical Instruments, Dials, Perspectives, Charts, and Books of Navigation, all of which I huddel’d together, whether I might want them or no. Also I found three very good Bibles, which came to me in my Cargo from England and which I had packed up among my things; some Portugueze Books, also, and among them two or three Popish prayer-books, and several other Books, all of which I carefully secured.

Daniel Defoe, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

This is a blog about the history of readers on the move. Conceptually, it is located somewhere between travel writing and book history, two fields in which I’ve long had an interest. More specifically it is somewhere to think about the important place that travelling libraries have held in the lives of itinerant readers. What do people read on planes, trains, and space ships? Why do they read on the road? Where do they read and what are the consequences? These questions are what this blog is all about.

When Daniel Defoe shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe on his island, he allowed him to rescue from the ship before it went down a catalogue of belongings that would help his castaway survive throughout the coming years. As well as pens, ink, and paper, Crusoe makes sure to rescue a neat little library. Together, the instruments of reading and writing serve to preserve his story as well as his sanity. In the three centuries since Crusoe first turned to his Bible far from home at a moment of existential crisis, readers under strange skies have used their libraries as a means of sustenance, hope, and recreation. Emigrants to the New World, prisoners to Australian penal colonies, explorers in Antarctica, troops in the trenches of the First World War, are among those who have shared Crusoe’s devotion to reading in extreme circumstances.

This blog also happens to share a title with a book that appeared in 2021 from Oxford University Press. It’s a topic on which I have been thinking and writing almost as long as Crusoe’s three decade sojourn on his island. This blog is a place where I propose to go on thinking about hermeneutic castaways. If anyone happens to find this message in a bottle, do please let me know by leaving your responses in the comment box.

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