Ardent readers of this publication will be familiar with the Editor’s need to visit secondhand bookshops every 48 hours lest he succumb to uneasiness. The thing about such rhythmic behaviour is that eventually all the books one has craved become one’s own. If the bookomane reads book reviews, regularly inspects stock in the big bookshops, notes down titles mentioned on the radio and television and by friends etc, he will soon generate a list as long as his arm. Let us say that the bookophile lives one hundred years. In that time he will almost inevitably pick up everything on his list as those volumes are steadily discarded by those who do not know any better. This could amount to hundreds of books. It is, furthermore, conceivable that, even as death approaches, the outstanding volumes will be secured. Given that the bulk of the books thus acquired will not be read in the lifetime referred to earlier, it doesn’t matter if a few are never located. One is not obsessed.The key to all this is, of course, memorisation. One must be able to recall that, possibly several years ago, a particular title or author was placed on the list. One can, obviously, read the list from time to time to refresh the memory but I must confess I’m a hardliner on this one: it is a sign of weakness to read the list. It exists because the act of adding to it constitutes a memorable operation in itself. No further consultation should be necessary.
I was recently very pleased to secure a particular used volume in the local branch of Traid. This is its cover.
I first saw it in Magma, in Clerkenwell, where I should have bought it without further ado (I am not averse to the new purchase). Sensing that the volume was a portal to some interesting thinking, I did, however, remember it. But not well enough. After a year or two I had forgotten both title and author(s).
Finding myself in the Clerkenwell area again – I was seeking out a source of grub screws (the ones that prevent door knobs from falling off) – I popped into Magma and endured the following exchange:
“Do you have that book that you had with pictures of the figures that you get in advertisements?” “How do you mean?” “You know: it’s a collection of the little…er…figures…you know…like little men and animals that are associated with products?” “I don’t think we’ve ever had that.” “You have! I mean ‘You have.’ It’s full of images of…they’re like cartoon characters! They help sell products.” “No.” In the next post I will take a look at some of these cheeky little items.
It had been two days. I had to get to a book shop lest my skin grew livid. I found myself passing a charity shop and walked straight in, years of habit inclining my head to the left so that it lay on my shoulder, the better to appraise spines. (If you do this too much the brain adjusts and, like the iPhone in browser mode, swings the vista through 90 degrees so that you see things the right way and cannot appraise spines then when you go back into the street and straighten your neck everything is at a right angle. Still, if you can’t take the heat…) Within moments I had eased from the shelf a copy of Andrew Crumey’s ‘Mobius Dick’, an entertaining and intricate novel of parallel universes that I had already read but had to give back to its owner but it’s always good to actually own everything you have ever read because you might want to use it somehow someday. Maybe. A steal at 50p.
Then I noticed a volume called ‘Vision & Difference – Feminism, Femininity and Histories of Art’ by Griselda Pollock. As I flipped through it, thinking “Come off it, David, who are you trying to kid? You know you won’t ever read it despite it being a snip at £1,” I found myself in a chapter titled ‘Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity’ and there, lodged unassumingly between two pages, was a colour photograph, a snapshot, in fact, possibly from Snappy Snaps or the chemist’s. Then I thought “For the sake of the readers of Strength Weekly I will transfer this photo from ‘Vision & Difference’ to ‘Mobius Dick’. My actions are perfectly understandable.” So I did this.
These are the questions that must be answered: Is the guy famous or just a guy? Is he dressed up or actually a footballer of the American persuasion? Is the photo American? Is the guy a woman? Was the reader a woman? (who knew the guy) Having read the book did the woman still like the guy? Is there any reason, frankly, why she should not? If the reader was the guy did he continue to play American football having read the book? Is there any reason, frankly, why he should not? If the reader was not the guy and not a woman and therefore another guy does he like football or was he just using the photo, in which he had no particular interest, as a handy bookmark? If the reader was a woman who did or did not know the guy was her use of the photo a form of humour? Was the photo applied randomly to the book by a reader of indeterminate gender for no reason other than, say, the chemist’s had accidentally printed two of that particular snap so they might as well use it as a bookmark although it is rather big? Even so, did this undetermined reader appreciate that the inappositeness of the juxtaposition was, at the least, provocative? Why is the guy’s shoe weird? Why are his arms not rugged?
I like to read, me. If I don’t do it daily I get a rash and if I don’t go to a bookshop (usually a charity shop) every 48 hours I feel unsettled. I have a lot of books on my shelves and I hope I will be able to read them all. I have calculated that I will be dead long before I succeed in so doing. It is not as if I have stopped collecting in order to read what I’ve got. I add to the collection every few days, transferring my allegiances from the last crush to the next pash in a coldly fickle moment.
I have a lot of books on my shelves and I hope I will be able to read them all. I have calculated that I will be dead long before I succeed in so doing. It is not as if I have stopped collecting in order to read what I’ve got. I add to the collection every few days, transferring my allegiances from the last crush to the next pash in a coldly fickle moment. I would like to read all the books that I would like to read but I’d need a parallel life in which I simply circumambulated my capacious library whilst drinking real ale and swimming.
The pathology of plenitude is upon us. Too much stuff, too little time. What to do? Give up, obviously. Try not to think about box sets. Abstain from secondary stimulants such as magazines designed to induce purchase. Dip toes in the weir of nonchalance. Say ‘I know enough already.’ Or ‘I will stop now and let culture swim before me until I am just a figure at the bus-stop as culture rolls towards the horizon leaving flared trousers in its wake.’
Thanks to the ever-rewarding Things Magazine I learn that Penguin have issued the Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection, comprising 1,082 titles and retailing at $13,315.84. With an Amazon discount of 40% this works out at a trifling $7,989.50.
I am not remotely tempted. Were money no object I would not part with the requisite sum. Besides, I read at least seven of them at Uni. But as Completions go, this one is up there with The Assembled Nouvelle Vague, Its Antecedents, Its Tendencies and Its Divers Spawn, a 60 DVD set (I made that up). Certainly the owner of the Penguin set would never need to go out again. It would, on a personal level, be the End of History.
I suppose one might just buy them in order to feel better in some disturbed way but still keep going out. Much as the life of the Duc des Esseintes, the aesthete ‘hero’ of J-K Huysmans’ ground-breaking 1884 proto-virtual-reality novel of the Decadence ‘Against Nature’, has its cosy charms (the Duke purchases a chateau and lavishly decorates each of its rooms in a different style: one simulates a boat, another contains a collection of perfumes with which he composes an aromatic symphony etc) (it’s a Penguin Classic) (he never goes out again), I fear the sickly perfume of atrophy would soon drive one out to the nearest All Bar One. (‘”Mine’s a pint, squire!” barked the Duke thirstily.’)
No bugger who buys the Classics Collection will ever read it. We can speculate on how nice it feels to have it though: “Now that I have the Classics Collection not only is my library complete but I am. I have sealed the fissures through which dripped the contempt of the cultured. Like the taxi-driver I am fatly equipped with the Knowledge even if I do not, as yet, appear to know how to get to King’s Cross. I can, however, at any time that I choose, immerse myself in the canon and fire my firm self through the firmament of cultivation. It is as if I had a warm puppy in each trouser pocket, where the puppy is the good feeling and the trousers are the garments of the mind. And now, if you will excuse me, I am going to kill myself. For I am finished here.”