Books, Musings

Lost Pages

You get on the train and take your seat. Phew! The light is good and your eyes are rested. Your book, itching to be read, falls open at the right page and the world around you, like sugar in boiling water, speedily dissolves. Another day, a new train but this time, your ear catches on to floating conversation and hangs tight. As hard as you try you can’t unhook it and dive into your book. Oh Sisyphus, you should see my uphill struggle! Why, why, why, does this happen? By the time you or Chatterbox get off the train you’ve lost five or six pages that are never coming back.


Books, Musings


Reading for many appears to be a pass-the-time on “my new Kindle!” while waiting for the next real activity. For some it’s about getting through titles on a bestseller list. That’s a shame because reading is nothing about ticking off bestseller lists. That is goal setting and true readers are adventurers. You cannot set milestones in an adventure because you have no idea where it will take you! So what is reading: it’s about ideas; it’s about people; it can be about plot but better it’s about human nature; it’s about language and its power, beauty, subtlety and nuance. It can also be about style (Proust) or social commentary and essays (lost art!). Reading is pleasure and more for even more than travel it expands (not just broadens) the mind.

I must confess I haven’t read a lot of popular new fiction but there is so much juice in the old ones e.g. from Lucretius (where he broaches evolution) to Thucydides to Caesar or Cicero; (Aristotle is hard) but Homer with the right translation is stunning and so is Virgil. I just finished Jared Diamond’s book Collapse and I would never have imagined anthropology as thriller: my world view switched. One reads a book like Hemingway’s The Old Man & The Sea and he wields a power that holds one spell-bound; the man was a wizard. And what of Gogol or Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. I’m just skimming here for there are hundreds and quite possibly thousands of great books and poetry though I find the latter hard.

Personally, I find reading superior to masturbation (I do that too so I know!) and what it does to my brain is what I imagine LSD does for some people; it’s the difference between taking the blue pill and the red pill. I’m like a cosmologist granted space-time travel into another universe or I’m like the curious little bugger who walks through the looking glass.  You read a book like Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red – about artists (and murder) – and your heart pounds while your subconsciously taking in some history. What a beautifully written book!

Man as protagonist: the ability to look into the human soul and capture its essence is part of the genius of Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare. These guys were deep and sometimes long but books don’t have to be be 500 pages to be stunning. The Old Man & The Sea was like 100 pages and Solzhenitsyn’s A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich was like 100 pages too if I remember correctly and they are both far superior to the mass of books stored on most people’s Kindles. (Nesbo? Pah! Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – superb).

Books, Culture, Musings

Ballade Of The Bookworm

by Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

Far in the Past I peer, and see
A Child upon the Nursery floor,
A Child with books upon his knee,
Who asks, like Oliver, for more!
The number of his years is IV,
And yet in Letters hath he skill,
How deep he dives in Fairy-lore!
The Books I loved, I love them still!

One gift the Fairies gave me:  (Three
They commonly bestowed of yore)
The Love of Books, the Golden Key
That opens the Enchanted Door;
Behind it BLUEBEARD lurks, and o’er
And o’er doth JACK his Giants kill,
And there is all ALADDIN’S store, –
The Books I loved, I love them still!

Take all, but leave my Books to me!
These heavy creels of old we bore
We fill not now, nor wander free,
Nor wear the heart that once we wore;
Not now each River seems to pour
His waters from the Muses’ hill;
Though something’s gone from stream and shore,
The Books I loved, I love them still!


Fate, that art Queen by shore and sea,
We bow submissive to thy will,
Ah grant, by some benign decree,
The Books I loved–to love them still.

Books, Musings

Swot Envy, Fifteen A Week!

I just read about a guy who averaged fifteen to twenty books a week. A week! I’m lucky to read two in that time and that’s having sped things up from about one every ten days.  Granted, Lowell Lee Andrews, for that was his name, was on death row for slugging his family. Bullets: between sister’s eyes, then six in mum and seventeen into dad. No, I have no desire to kill my parents though I might have wished dad dead a few times too often for what he did or I thought he did (to be clear, not sexual). There’s a lot my parents did wrong but now I’m older, I acknowledge with some regret that they weren’t brought up perfectly either and being human they fucked up. The funny or serious thing is that they brought me up with a good moral sense and with the best education they could afford and that counts mighty plenty.

Yesterday, the email from the big chief upstairs announced impending headcount cuts citing the difficult economic environment blah blah. After the first wave of shock and fear that “this is it” (never been fired but there’s always a first time, right?) I slipped into a reverie: well, if I was laid off with a nice little sum on the side and on account of it coming up to Christmas and no one hiring, well, how many books could I read? Cold days spent in coffee shops getting warm and devouring the hundred fifty to two hundred unread books lying around and never diminished in three years, being acquired faster than they were read. The pleasure in buying a new book (paper mind you, not electronic) and flipping the pages is equivalent to a junkie on crack. Must be. Or is it? I’ve never been on crack but I have been (and still am) a book junkie. But fifteen a week! No, no, I cannot think like this! I will not murder and I do not want to be fired even for fifteen a week.