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Saturday, 7 September 2013

Down there in black and white


READING'S REALITIES. Part two: Delusions

Are book readers entirely aware of their pastime?

I stayed one night at the country cottage of a BBC bigwig. His wife was said to be a great reader and acres of bookshelves reinforced this. Then I noticed something slightly unusual: all the Iris Murdochs clearly bought as new hardbacks, one after the other. Similarly with Drabble, Byatt and others.

I reflected. Realised how rarely I bought fiction in new hardback form. Don't get me wrong. If you've got money and space this is the way to go. No hanging about at the library, no waiting for the paperback. A standing order at the bookshop and bingo, you're up with the critics.

I reflected again. Many readers are prepared to admit loving certain authors. The bond is strong and unashamed. Yet how many are prepared to show their love in practical terns - by buying their favourite's books as hardbacks. As a tribute if you like. How many, like me, practice delay and eventually click on ABE for second-hand versions?

How many say I adore reading, love the feel and smell of books, slaver at the prospect of somehing new by X. And then take the cheapo route?

How well-read are well-read readers? I decided to read all Trollope but stopped halfway - about twenty titles. Trollope isn't difficult, I was wearied. If I were claiming to be well-read (which I'm not) had I met the necessary quota for loquacious Anthony? Only half of Dickens, Meredith, Balzac, Anne Tyler and William Faulkner to go. Do I have time? Did I ever have time? I rode motorbikes, climbed rock faces, drank many pints of ale and fantasised about the unapproachability of women.

Amazingly some people have accused me of being bookish.

4 comments:

Joe Hyam said...

Some people like the company of books, enjoy taking one down from the shelf and stroking it before replacing it.But they rarely read books certainly from cover to cover. Montaigne the possessor of a large library was on his own admission a flirt of this sort. I won't pretend to be never compare myself with the great essayist.

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: You have a collection of books I've always admired. Distributed throughout the house so that most are visible (our books are in different rooms and so one doesn't get the full sweep). To some extent I had your shelving in mind when I described Christopher Day's Bayonne attic in Out Of Arizona. Jana asks him questions and he (in his deliberately anti-book-as-a physical-entity mood) says he doesn't really need them, detached spines glued to the walls would be enough, acting simply as reminders. A moment later, realising he's been just a bit too silly, he makes an exception for the books of poetry. I was looking for outrageous opinion here - to stir up readers who might not have thought deeply about their relationship with books. I'm glad I didn't know about this half-admitted sensuality of yours. I'd have been tempted to use it and it wouldn't have fitted. Rather too indulgent. Not true. But then unadorned truth isn't always useful.

Joe Hyam said...

I immediately identified with Christopher Day. Now I know why. Or pehaps I suspected as much when I first encountered him.

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: I trust you wouldn't wish to ape Day in other - physiological - ways.

I was conscious of your 200-miles away presence as I wrote about him but this wasn't always a help. I was fairly sure that had you been responsible for the choice of poetry that emerged, the poems would have been more venturesome, less familiar. But I had to bear in mind that Jana was a poetic novice. As it happened there was a little serendipity. Having chosen Westminster Bridge I suddenly realised how well it worked with the two Frenchmen who became exposed to it. Perhaps a little too well, a little too pat.