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The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, by George Gissing

A Micro-Review Essay

“But oh, how good it is to desire little, and to have a little more than enough!”

Nerd heaven: An older writer who scrapes together a living receives a small annuity for life. It’s enough to let him live: not extravagantly, but simply, which is all Ryecroft wants. He just wants to live in a little cottage in the country with his “beloved books.” For diversion, he has pleasant strolls. But he can’t resist his pen, so he jots down notes about his slice of heaven. But no earthly heavens last, and Ryecroft’s is cut short by death. This is a beautiful little book, the kind that makes your whole existence feel poetic. Not poetic in a cheap Madison-Avenue way, but rather in a cheap noble way. Yes, cheap, because the feeling is fleeting, crushed immediately by the first non-noble thing that comes your way. I kinda hate books like Ryecroft. I mean, you read them and they’re packed with aphorisms and beauty and the good things in life, and then you put them down, go into the real world, and behave like an ape. Then again, no one has left me a little annuity, and even if they did, a little wouldn’t be enough. I think I could go without the better things in life, but I’m neither brave nor virtuous enough to make my dependents do the same, even though I know it’d be good for them in the long run. If I want to live Ryecroft-like, I guess I should read his papers more often, but then cement them with prayer. I don’t need an annuity to do that.