Bill Moeller Commentary: Speed Reading or Deep Reading Old Written Treasures


The thought that turned into this week’s column had its beginning one morning a couple of weeks ago.

It was breakfast time, but before eating I wanted to first read the thermometer on my porch.

Something unusual caught my eye, and it turned out to be three old, scuffed-up books someone had dropped off during the night.

One was a reprint of a novel. Another — dated 1902 — was a religious book on “The Gentle Art of Making Happy.” But it was the third item, an old pocket book with many signs of age, that caught my attention. That book, “The Secret Garden,” kept me up past my usual bedtime and occupied most of the next day as well.

To be brief about the book, “The Secret Garden” was first published in 1911 and has become a classic in many forms: stage productions, movies, ballets and, of course, books of all sizes. Because it dwells mostly on the lives of two children in their very early teenage years, it has been classified as a children’s book, but it’s more than that.

I’m not going to say anything about the book’s contents. It’s more fun to find out those things by oneself.

Reading the book over a long unbroken space of time taught me much about myself and — perhaps — you might experience the same reaction? That is, learning about yourself, if you give it a little time for the thoughts to sink in.

I enjoy reading anything — but mostly fiction — at a much slower pace than the average reader. It gives me time to explore not only the thoughts and reasons behind the characters actions but what might also have been the reasons behind the author’s choice of one word over another.

All of the forgoing statements have nothing to do with what I really wanted to confess, which is that I’ve been re-introduced to another book that I read many years ago and I even had for sale — unsuccessfully — on the shelves of Huckleberry Books back when that was my shop and put food on the table.

Even though it was copyrighted in 1927, typing the title of “archy and mehitabel” on your keyboard will let you know that it’s still being printed and sold today.

It was written by don marquis, and that name is not capitalized for a reason which you’ll find out later. I don’t know where to start in explaining the book but it began when I offered my copy to a friend and she returned it with such enthusiasm and excitement that I simply had to start turning the pages and again reading the book that had occupied space on my own bookshelves for many years.

The style of writing may have been the inspiration for many poets today to whom writing in a prescribed style is nowhere as important as the message itself. Mehitabel is an aging female cat whose adventures in life may have been somewhat unconventional while archy is a cockroach who writes the poetry in the book. That’s right, a cockroach and, yes, writes modern style poetry on a typewriter whenever the owner leaves a sheet of paper in it as he exits the office each evening. It’s explained in the beginning of the book that archy manages to write by leaping into the air and coming down head first onto each letter. Since he can hit only one key at a time, he’s unable to capitalize any letters! 

One has to have an open mind when reading what archy has written, but it all has a connection to human behavior and — where mehitabel is concerned — occasional human misbehavior. There’s one phrase repeated by archy that sums up his feeling about her when he respectfully states “there’s a dance in the old dame yet.”

According to a note before the title page, don marquis wrote 15 other books. Golly, I’d like to get my hands on any one of them!

In this time, escaping into other worlds is very worthwhile.


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at