I’m touring at the moment, so this post may be a little shorter than usual. It struck me, though, that for last week’s post I’d read only one book - Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men - while the week before I read six. Now admittedly four of those books were relatively short, and I did take two airline flights that week, but it was still quite an achievement. I’m not quite sure what happened last week. I mean, the McCarthy book wasn’t hard going by any means, but I made slow progress on it.
I suppose I’m conscious of the fact that more and more books keep appearing in my house, and my reading isn’t keeping pace with my purchases. In an ideal world, I’d be book-neutral, in much the same way that one can contribute to the damage done to the environment by one’s airline flights through contributing to forestry and climate friendly energy projects. (And FYI on this, one short haul flight contributes as much to global warming as driving a 1.4 litre car for three months, according to www.carbonneutral.com. Unless, of course, you’re a member of the US Department of Energy, in which case it’s all lies and you should just go ahead and upgrade to that SUV.)
Anyway, in the last two weeks I’ve bought ten books and read seven, so I’m still plus three on the book front. The problem is that the space I have for storing books is not getting any bigger. It’s not as if I own Doctor Who’s Tardis, which is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, in which case I could accommodate potentially infinite numbers of books. Instead, it’s as if my books are breeding. Every time I read some, more appear. It distresses me mildly that the cover for one of my heaters in my dining room has become a bookshelf due to lack of space, and I can now no longer turn on the heat in that room for fear of damaging my books. Books are potentially contributing to my future ill health. Worse, they’re potentially damaging the health of my visitors, who are blameless and don’t deserve to suffer arthritis or flu simply because their host feels that the well-being of his books are more important.
There was a time when I wouldn’t get rid of the books that I’d bought, even after I’d read them, but that time is now gone. I’ve become quite ruthless, and my local Oxfam bookshop has been the main beneficiary, but I still haven’t quite managed to cull my shelves to the extent that I should. For example, I have two copies of a particularly well-loved collection of Donald Barthelme short stories. One is a paperback, the other a signed hardback bought more recently. In theory, I should be able to get rid of the paperback, but I can’t. I remember buying it. I remember being struck by some of the stories in it. I associate not just that book, but that particular copy of it, with a certain time in my life. I can’t get rid of it. In fact, I probably have less affection for the more expensive signed copy than I do for my mauled, broken spined paperback.
That’s the dilemma, in a nutshell. There are books that I have read, and that I will probably never read again, and yet I can’t part with them because those books mean something to me, not just as abstract ideas or memories but as physical entities. So I guess I will just have to resign myself to the fact that my shelves are destined to become more untidy, that increasingly unlikely corners of my house are going to be pressed into service for book storage and that, at some point in the future, I may well end up as one of those old people who are found dead after an unfortunate incident with a dodgy pile of books or an overburdened bookshelf, much like Leonard Bast in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.
And do you know what people will say about me if that happens?
“It’s how he would have wanted to go.”
Well, let me tell you now: no, it’s not. To quote that lovely joke, I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming and crying like his passengers . . .
This week John read:
Fiddlers by Ed McBain
Will Storr Vs The Supernatural by Will Storr
and listened to:
That Striped Sunlight Sound by The Go Betweens