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My Best Friend is a Person Who Will Give Me a Book I Have Not Read

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”

The quotation is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Although the phrase is not found in any of his writings, most likely it is a paraphrase of something he said. There are two sources that confirm this and both reveal a rather hayseed diction, inconsistent with the eloquence we expect from Lincoln. The first, is from Carl Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926): “The next thing Abe would be reading between the plow handles, it seems to them. And once trying to speak a last word, Dennis Hanks [Lincoln’s cousin] said, “There’s suthin’ peculairsome about Abe.” Maybe in books he would find the answers to dark questions pushing around in the pools of this thoughts and the drifts of his mind. He told Dennis and other people, ‘The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll git me a book I ain’t read.” The second is a variation of that first source, found in the essay “Abe Lincoln and His Books” by Frances Cavanah included in the Wilson Library Bulletin (Volume 28, 1953): “For he was one of that fortunate group to whom a book could open a new world. ‘My best friend,’ he told his cousin, Dennis Hanks, ‘is a man who can give me a book I ain’t read.'”

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