Wednesday, 5 July 2017

As I Please: Book Worm Memories

As I Please: Book Worm Memories

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
― C.S. Lewis

“That I can read and be happy while I am reading, is a great blessing.”
― Anthony Trollope

Sometimes you have to get rid of books to charity shops, and I was busy last night sorting out a large Iceland bag of books to get rid of. The bag comes from Iceland Stores, but the books don’t have to be deep frozen to take them to the bookshop.

And yet in a sense, they are at the fringes: books on the edge, not where the weather is pleasant as it is at the moment in Jersey, but on the arctic ice sheets, an inhospitable place hardly ever frequented.

There are the books I have read once, and then put away thinking I might read them again... and then realise I never will. Some books I return to many times. C.S. Lewis Narnia Books, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings are examples. But others I think I might and then finally decide that if I haven’t re-read them in 5 years or longer, the chances are I never will.

Factual books I tend to return to more often. A collection of essays by Orwell, some of the wonderful natural history essays by Stephen Jay Gould, almost anything by Ronald Hutton, and history in general.

Other books which were gifts, I know I will never read. They are by authors like Dan Brown, and there they sit, until enough time has lapsed when one can put them in the charity bag without feeling a guilt trip. Dan Brown – best selling author, whose books are so disposable that some charity shops have said enough is enough: no more Da Vinci Code, Inferno, etc.

Brown is the equivalent of a tabloid paper, from the lower end of the spectrum. Sensationalised stories selling books that by tomorrow are junk. In the old days, there was a saying that a tabloid newspaper would be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. Modern hygiene, however, means we now have polystyrene containers. Are they biodegradable, I wonder?

“When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.”
― Virginia Woolf

I can’t remember exactly when I first learned to read, but I do know that it happened very quickly. It was like opening eyes and seeing it is suddenly daylight. All those squiggles on the page made sense. I may have been around five.

I was certainly a bookworm. I don’t think it matters what you read when you begin as long as you get the habit of enjoying reading. Some people don’t. They may read a newspaper, a magazine, and that’s about it. I was a literary omnivore.

I read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, and I read Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I read Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. I discovered the adult section, and read H.P Lovecraft and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I read Orwell’s 1984, John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, TV Comic, TV Century 21, World of Wonder, Look and Learn, and if I ran out, my sister’s comics.

There’s a grainy 16 mm film that my father made of a trip to St Malo in a friend’s boat. Some of it is seeing the sights, enjoying a foreign culture. But there is also film of me sitting on a seat on the deck of the boat, reading a book.

I used to dread holidays, and running out of books to read. If the holiday was in England, you could always buy books. There were a lot of cheap paperbacks both in the UK and here at the beach side cafe’s. The Pan Book of Horror Stories. Lady Cynthia’s Ghost Stories. And even in the early 1970s, the new Target range of Doctor Who novelisations. I was already reading avidly, but I have heard many anecdotes of people who learnt to enjoy reading because they watched Doctor Who and read the books.

Abroad was more tricky, and I would read and re-read the same books again and again. For a week’s holiday that could mean I knew the book inside out. I could tell you the plot of Larry Niven’s “The World of Ptavvs” very easily. I must have read it a hundred times.

Second hand bookshops were the delight, and there used to be plenty in Jersey. Thesaurus was the best, originally by Sand Street Car Park, then moving to the building that you can see in episodes of Bergerac. It had 3 floors: hours of exploration.

Then there was James Street Books, where I used to chat to Stella Perkins, and Hillgrove Books, and the SPCK had a second hand upstairs.

The main bookshops were Lexicon, de Gruchy, Jura, and then one at West Centre. If I had a bit more money I’d browse there.

And then there were jumble sales. These were the precursor to car boots, fund raisers usually organised by one group, but with donations of all kinds of items, including books.

The crème de la crème of book sales was that organised by the Guide Dogs for the Blind. Thousands of books to browse, and such variety!

The internet and a Kindle is a modern marvel, but I still enjoy going to a car boot or a book shop, and browsing through. You can open a book and get a feel for whether it is worth reading or not in a way that just isn’t possible even with the sample pages you can browse on a Kindle.

But I don't think the book is finished yet.

Speaking to the American Booksellers Association in 1989, Isaac Asimov asked his audience to imagine a sci-fi information storage device that, “Can go anywhere, and is totally portable. Something that can be started and stopped at will along its data stream, allowing the user to access the information in an effective, easy manner. Cannot run out of power.”

Asimov answered his own sci-fi riddle: “We have this device. It’s called a book.”

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