Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Books do furnish a room

I’ve been here before. Packing up my entire collected belongings and paying to store them expensively until some uncertain future time when we can be reunited. Last time it took about four years before I recovered my stuff and to be frank, the reunion was something of a disappointment. I hardly looked at the old photographs and my precious books remained boxed as I hadn’t space to shelve them. Then,two years back, I finally spent a week constructing shelves and unpacking the lot. Ah the books; I have just filled, transported and stacked 30 archive boxes of them and I’m wondering where the rest of them went.

Over the years I have given up, given away, misplaced or otherwise lost hundreds, if not thousands of volumes of literature, science, politics, philosophy, engineering, comment, and whimsy. I have purposefully pursued the classics and the trash with equal alacrity and consider myself widely, if thinly read. A part of me wants to read everything. Another part of me knows I may never get around to reading even the ones in my ‘unread’ boxes. History, great thought, sweeping drama and just the stuff I feel I ought to read because everybody else has – although to be fair this is often a turn off.

But why? In the Internet age, with the world’s knowledge at your fingertips or in the palm of your hand in an instant, why the urge to not only read clumsy great paper tomes but to acquire and covet them? And given the receding ability of minds, young and older, to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, it is almost a wonder that the book survives at all; or do people now only read 140 characters at a time and then write, “no YOU fuck off!” in the margin? I raise a guilty hand as I realise that while I talk a good game, my only dedicated reading time is now reduced to the few minutes in bed before sleep takes me.

I spend more time writing now than I ever do reading, like the literary equivalent of the pub bore. But packing away these word treasure hoards for what seems like forever this time, I wonder if by the time I get to open them again my own hands will look like parchment and the liver spots will tremble and dance with whatever old age ailments have beset me. Worse, will I never get to see them again; the old friends who have dutifully followed me around from address to address only to be ignored, time after time? And as I type this I understand that it is not death I fear but going before I have read my allotted selections.

Poussinally speaking...
A Dance to the Music of Time

So, as I pack I make a promise to my library. I WILL read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall and I WILL read Churchill’s histories. Antony Beevor’s Second World War will be consumed as will Lady Antonia Fraser’s Perilous Question. Paradise Lost will be found and I will revisit some of those collected wisdoms whose percipience was wasted on me first time around. Is it A Question of Upbringing or A Buyer’s Market? Or in Hearing Secret Harmonies will I finally get to have the last waltz in the Dance to the Music of Time? One thing is certain – only time will tell.

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