After several expeditions Byrd, trying to justify his solo wintering at Advance Base, felt restless:
p. 6: But for me there was little sense of true achievement…. I was conscious of a certain aimlessness…. For example, books. There was no end to the books that I was forever promising myself to read; but, when it came to reading them, I seemed never to have the time or the patience. With music, too, it was the same way; the love for it—and I suppose the indefinable need—was also there, but not the will of opportunity to interrupt for it more than momentarily the routine which most of us come to cherish as existence.
p. 8: Yet I do not regret going. For I read my books—if not as many as I had counted on reading; and listened to my phonograph records, even when they seemed only to intensify my suffering; and meditated—though not always as cheerfully as I had hoped.
p. 58: mini-panic that he may have forgotten a cook book.
p. 61, March 29, 1934: This being the twenty-second anniversary of the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, I have been reading again his immortal diary. He died on this same Barrier, at approximately the same latitude as that of Advance Base. I admire him as I admire few other men; better than most, perhaps, I can appreciate what he went through….
p. 89, April 17: A momentous day. I found the cook book! Going through a home-made canvas bag…I came upon the precious volume early this morning. The whoop of joy I uttered sounded so loud that I was actually embarrassed; it was the first sound to pass my lips, I realized, in twenty days.
No book washed ashore to a castaway could have been more avidly studied. I regret to say, though, that it doesn’t solve all the mysteries of cooking.
p. 101, April 22, working in tunnel: This morning I finished cutting shelves in the sides for superfluous books.
p. 102: After that, lunch. I am half through Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, and I read a chapter as I ate. A meal eaten alone and in silence is no pleasure. So I fell into the habit of reading while I ate. In that way I can lose myself completely for a time. The days I don’t read I feel like a barbarian brooding over a chuck of meat.
p. 104: During this [pre-supper] hour I undergo a sort of intellectual levitation, although my thinking is usually on earthy, practical matters. Last night, before turning in, I read, in Santayana’s Soliloquies in England, an essay on friendship.
p. 107-8: As long as heat remains in the shack, I shall read; tonight it will be the second volume of the Life of Alexander, which I’ve nearly finished. That part is by choice. When my hands turn numb, I’ll reach up and blow out the lantern….
p. 113: With the help of a doctor friend, I had equipped the [Advance] Base with a medical library, containing, among other books, a medical dictionary, Gray’s Anatomy, and Strumpell’s Practice of Medicine. With these, if I thumbed far enough, I could recognize the symptoms of anything from AAA (a form of hookworm) to caries….
p. 117, re his imaginary path: I could move it forward and backward in time and space, as when in the midst of reading Yule’s Travels of Marco Polo, I divided the path into stages of that miraculous journey, and in six days and eighteen miles wandered from Venice to China, seeing everything that Marco Polo saw.
p. 128: …I had settled down to read. I picked up Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, which I was halfway through, but its concerns seemed fantastically remote to the monocracy of Advance Base. I went from that to Heloise and Abélard, a story I have always loved; after a little while the words began to run together. Queerly, my eyes hurt, my head ached a little, though not enough to bother.” This was the beginning of his ventilation problem.
p. 140: Although I had made an exhaustive study of dietetics, especially vitamins, in connection with provisioning my expeditions, just to be on the safe side, I decided to consult an excellent authority, called New Dietetics, a present from my friend John H. Kellogg…. [Byrd had to ask the base camp where it was to locate it, but was able to]. A quick reading of the book confirmed what I knew already: namely, that so far as choice of foods went, my diet was thoroughly balanced.
p. 141—listening to Beethoven’s Fifth.
p. 142: My sense of humour remains, but the only sources of it are my books and myself, and, after all, my time to read is limited….
p. 144-45: I’ve been reading stories from several old English magazines. I got started on a murder serial, but I’ll be damned if I can find two crucial installments. So I’ve had no choice but to try the love stories, and it is queer to reflect that beyond the horizon the joyful aspects of life go on….
p. 190—listening, in the midst of illness, to La Boheme.
p. 193: I tried to read Ben Ames Williams’ All the Brothers Were Valiant; but, after a page or two, the letters became indistinct; and my eyes ached—in fact, they had never stopped aching. I cursed inwardly….
p. 201: Across the room, in the shadows beyond the reach of the storm lantern, were rows of books, many of them great books, preserving the distillates of profound lives. But I could not read them. The pain in my eyes would not let me…. Every small aspect of the shack bespoke my weakness…the yellowed places where I had vomited: the overturned chair beside the stove which I hadn’t bothered to pick up, and the book—John Marquand’s Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport—which lay face down on the table.
p. 212, June 15: I found that I could read again, without hurting my eyes, and spent a wonderful hour or so finishing Marquand’s tale about that eccentric eighteenth-century gentleman, Lord Timothy Dexter. Later, I played the phonograph, for the first time in nearly a week.
p. 217: I picked up Ludwig’s Napoleon, but after a page or two the letters became blurred and my eyes ached.
p. 231, July 2: I’ve begun to read again—two chapters from The House of Exile, which I hope to continue with to-night. It’s the best thing imaginable for me—takes me out of myself for a blessed hour or two. And to-night, also, I played the phonograph after supper….
p. 237: I threw the antenna switch on the transmitter side, and planted Strumpell’s Practice of Medicine on the key to hold it down….
p. 274, July: And all around me was the evidence of my ruin. Cans of half-eaten, frozen food were scattered on the deck. The parts of the dismantled generator were heaped up in a corner, where I had scuffed them three weeks before. Books had tumbled out of their shelves, and I had let them lie where they fell. And now the film of ice covered the floor, four walls, and the ceiling. There was nothing left for it to conquer.
p. 293: I dropped below and rested an hour. I forced myself to read Hergesheimer’s Java Head, incidentally; but my mind would not follow the words.