A Toast to Warren Farha's Caravan of Culture

Feast of Sts Alexander, John, and Paul the New, Patriarchs of Constantinople

EDI_Award_SQUARE.jpegOUR INAUGURAL St John of Damascus Award was a huge success. You can read a brief report about it HERE.

For me personally, it was a delight and an honor to organize an event and present an award to a man who has had such a huge influence on my life. In one way or another, I’ve given the last twenty years of my life – apart from three years of missionary service in Latin America, my entire adult life – to the “Eighth Day cause.”

I usually miss most of the content that is presented at the larger events I organize. I’m so focused on the flow of the event that I’m unable to sit down and soak in the event itself. Consequently, I missed most of Warren’s talk. But the little bits that I caught, not surprisingly, were brilliant and enlightening. The most surprising piece that I was able to hear was the story of a customer in the early days, after experiencing the bookstore, telling Warren that his collection of books was so much more than a bookstore and that he needed an educational wing. That is precisely what Eighth Day Institute is. Warren puts books into people’s hands and we facilitate conversation around the content of those books. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants purchase books from Warren and we promote a dialogue of love and truth among those same Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestants. And we both do what we do for cultural renewal, “so that the world may believe” (Jn. 17:21).

I have an idea percolating about the content that was presented in honor of Warren at this event. It truly was great. For now, however, I can offer you two pieces: 1) you can watch a video that Frederica Mathewes-Green offered as a toast to Warren at THIS LINK; and 2) since I have my toast written out, and since most of it is simply a collection of readings, I’ll offer you that:

“I can’t honor a man who runs a bookstore without reading from a book, or in this case, from three books. I have three pieces that describe Warren Farha and his vocation as a bookseller: a lengthy passage from a novel, a poem, and a short passage from another novel.

The first is from a delightful novel titled Parnassus on Wheels. It’s part of a larger selection that I included in our first issue of Synaxis back in 2012. Warren is so much more than a bookseller, and this passage captures the uniqueness of his work:

I began to see something of the little man’s idealism in his work. He was a kind of travelling missionary in his way. . . . His eyes were twinkling now and I could see him warming up. “Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom huckster, people would run to the gate when I came by – just waiting for my stuff. And here I go loaded with everlasting salvation – yes, ma’am, salvation for their little, stunted minds – and it’s hard to make ‘em see it. That’s what makes it worth while – I’m doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It’s a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it’s worth while. That’s what this country needs – more books! . . . Do you know, it’s comical,” he said. “Even the publishers, the fellows that print the books, can’t see what I’m doing for them. Some of ‘em refuse me credit because I sell their books for what they’re worth instead of for the prices they mark on them. They write me letters about price-maintenance. Publish a good book and I’ll get a good price for it, says I! Sometimes I think the publishers know less about books than any one else! I guess that’s natural, though. Most school teachers don’t know much about children. . . . You see, my idea is that common people – in the country, that is – never have had any chance to get hold of books, and never have had any one to explain what books can mean. It’s all right for college presidents to draw up their five-foot shelves of great literature, and for the publishers to advertise sets of their Linoleum Classics, but what the people need is the good, homely, honest stuff – something that’ll stick to their ribs – make them laugh and tremble and feel sick to think of the littleness of this popcorn ball spinning in space without ever getting a hot-box! And something that’ll spur ‘em on to keep the hearth well swept and the wood pile split into kindling and the dishes washed and dried and put away. Any one who can get the country people to read something worth while is doing his nation a real service. And that’s what this caravan of culture aspires to.” ~Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels

The second piece is a poem by Marge Piercy. I first experienced this poem as a gift from Warren on this mounted plaque. I know he has also given one to Jennifer Jantz, a former employee with whom I worked at the bookstore. It should have been a gift to Warren, not to us. So Jennifer and I want to re-gift it back to him and this is the perfect occasion:

To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Finally, I have a short piece that I discovered during my first year of employment at Eighth Day Books (1998) while reading Michael O’Brien’s novel Father Elijah. Around the same time, Martha Tausch, another former employee, copied it out, printed it off, and gave it to Warren. That small piece of paper with this passage is still hanging up in Warren’s office. It encapsulates Warren’s life so well:

I live here in this great city like a monachus, a solitary one. I pray. I work. I put good books into the hands of people. Perhaps good thoughts are born in their minds. That is my calling. ~Michael O’Brien, Father Elijah                              

So here’s my toast to you, Mr. Warren Farha:

You are a travelling missionary with a caravan of culture;
You jump into work headfirst and you harness yourself;
And you put good books into the hands of so many people…                             

That is your calling and we honor you for following it,
For pulling like a water buffalo, with massive patience
For doing what has to be done, again and again
And again and again,
And again and again.

Cheers to Warren Farha, Founder of Eighth Day Books and Peddler of Books and Culture!"

If you missed the event, tax-deductible donations can still be made in honor of Warren and the wonderful bookstore he has created: online HERE or by mail to Eighth Day Institute, 2836 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS 67214.

*Gifts of $250 or more receive a complimentary copy of two books that contain articles written by Warren Farha

Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.

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  • Nancy Trier-Metzger
    commented 2017-08-31 11:53:42 -0500
    Thanks for sharing your toast, Erin. I am sorry we could not be there. Your words truly describe the noble mission of a bookseller such as Warren Farha. Many thanks to you, Warren, and Eighth Day Books.