Friday, February 03, 2006

Truly desultory

This is something I've never done before. It's also something I hope I never have to do again.

Over the last week I've felt the urge to write. But every time I had a keyboard to myself, either people arrived or the inspiration left. (Inspiration? Pretentious sod!) All the while the urge to produce words grew stronger, yet no release came. Painful situation. A sort of mental constipation. (".. have you heard / that silence where the birds are dead yet something singeth like a bird?" James Elroy Flecker may not have been a great poet, but he had the ear for melodrama, the scrape of a violin that signals Grendel's approach.)

So now I "sit by my window and I watch the cars roll by / I fear I'll do some damage one fine day". Except that during this last week, I visited my parents. And (as usual) got into an argument with my mother. It's a long-running dispute - she says she no longer has room for all my old books and has to give them away, I say she has no business giving away 20 years of systematic book buying / borrowing (well, I return books these days. Only nobody returns mine). Then a young friend found one of my books in a second-hand bookstore at Gariahat and I was indiscreet enough to upbraid my mother about it. On the lines of "if they're to be sold off, at least I should be the one selling them!"

To cut a long story short, I must now (a) retrieve that book as evidence with which to confront the unworthy beneficiary of my mother's impatience and (b) take all my other books off my parents' shelves post-haste. Doesn't make sense to me - the books still line the walls of what used to be my room, except that it's now my father's study (where he makes love to his computer and a slide guitar), and he doesn't complain, but my mother says there's no place for the books. Yeah right. What used to be my bedroom on the ground floor is now her spare kitchen. SPARE kitchen! Why can't she move some bookshelves there?

So now, on the box-shaped cabinet to my right, I see … Conrad’s The Secret Agent; Hammond Innes, Wreckers must breathe; J.B. Priestley, The Doomsday Men; T.E. Shaw .. sorry, Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom in a special abridged edition; Bellow, Henderson the Rain King (from my Cls. VII English teacher – he held that the only way to learn the language was to read it); John Stuart Mill, Considerations on representative government; The Early Asimov (Vol. 2); Louis L’Amour’s The First Fast Draw and several more; Parkinson’s Law of the Pursuit of Progress; Roth, Goodbye, Columbus; Alistair MacLean’s The Satan Bug; Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward: The great short stories of Robert Louis Stevenson; A.A. Milne, Four Plays; Richard Gordon’s Doctor on the Job and Doctor in Love; John Gunther, Inside Europe Today … I’m to damn lazy to list any more.

Oh, one more. Now lacking a cover, the paper brown with age and the blurb kitschy – Leon Uris’ first novel, Battle Cry. I shall read it again now. “What you want, chief, eggs in your beer?” and “I don’t give a big rat’s ass!” and “This is my rifle / this is my gun / this is for fighting / this is for fun” (I was 14 when I first read it, the impressions remain).

And so I sit and look at this cart-load of potential reading matter (even Lord of Arabia by Armstrong, an account of Ibn Saud’s rise that my father forced down my throat when I was about 12, so of course I hated it then but rather liked bits of it when I read it again after 10 years) and I wonder, will I ever read all these books again? DID I ever read them once? I can’t remember more than bits and pieces. Some of them I never did read all the way through. Others have just left blurred impressions, especially those I read before I was ready for them.

I missed a lot of good stuff because I started on it too early. If you’re 10 or 12 years old and you start on Heart of Darkness, chances are that for a long time you’ll hold the impression that Conrad is a dull writer. So they sit on the shelves, neglected, until you grow up enough to take another shot. Sometimes the initial dislike is too strong and you never get back to them (I’ve only ever read Moby Dick in the old Classics Illustrated comic series). Sometimes you get back and the book suddenly lights up, because at 22 you can relate to issues and ideas that you couldn’t at 12.

And sometimes the books sit on the shelves after one reading, like old friends you mean to get in touch with, only you’re too busy or too lazy and suddenly you find you haven’t spoken for a year or two and when you finally call you get somebody else who says your friend left town 6 months ago and sorry, we do not have his new address. So a friend drops by and you have no idea when he borrowed that book, only when you want to start on it again there’s a gap in the bookshelf.

Anyway, I’ve now started on I, Claudius and Bowdrie’s Law at the same time and life is very good.

Except that I can’t get myself to write anything. Unless I start writing about my own life, which is not interesting material. And which, in any case, is something I only do on my other blog, never on this one. Which was what this post was all about. Or supposed to be all about. Dang it.

**** ****


Rimi said...

coments like "oh, absolutely! my feelings exactly" are often so shallow, but...
...oh well, you know, my feelings exactly, and SO beautifully put, and all that sort of thing. the important thing is, are you perhaps looking for, you know, temporary storage for the books? then maybe i could help...
*puts on extra-innocent helpful look*

vAgue said...

well- this other blog business is a bit of a drag sometimes innit...
and no, this was not dull or uninteresting by any means, thank you.

Falstaff said...

That was lovely.

a) At last! Someone who understands how i feel about Flecker. All my friends seem to be divided into those who won't mention him in polite company and those who simply worship him.

b) Why is it that all copies of Battle Cry in existence are tattered old things with their covers missing? I swear - I've read that book twice (both when I was 14-15 though, so i'm not sure it should count) but I have no idea what the cover looks like.

c) Combine your Heart of Darkness story and your Moby Dick story and you have my own personal white whale. I actually have read Moby Dick in the original. Except that I was 12 at the time and found it, not surprisingly, unspeakably dull. Bought a copy of it last year which is sitting on my shelf and that I intend to re-read. Eventually.

d) The big trade-off for me is between reading new stuff that I've never got around to yet, or re-reading old stuff. So I keep telling myself that at some point I'm going to re-read all of Dostoyevsky and Woolf, I'm just not sure when.

Bonatellis said...

ahhh, "Battle Cry" !! childhood memory ...
can u jog your memory as to how many moons back u were 14 ... just curious ;)

araash said...

This one I enjoyed reading. Thanks.

km said...

Since we are all here to confess our lack of familiarity with Melville's fish, well, I've only seen Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Not even the Comicbook version for me.

But that's a fine post, JAP.


The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Will I be ostracized for not having heard of 'Battle Cry'?
But let me put my ignorance aside to say that that was lovely writing.

Ph said...

Best piece of advertising for a blog. But I would suggest that you not neglect those of us who faithfully leave comments there. Hmph.

Ananthoo said...

That was sooper!
esp that line 'I was 14 when I first read it, the impressions remain' is a classic!

and the topic itself, so close to many of sure most of us have gone thru this, mom/wify cursing the space occupied by books, esp untouched by us for years..nice description though..

eve's lungs said...

hello - we picked up your William the Outlaw from the 2nd hand shops at Gol Park !!

Someone filched my copy of Battle Cry - I also read it at 14 - after finishing the Drifters . Strangely enough the Drifters appealed to me so much when I was younger but I havent been able to progress beyond page 20 now..

Tanu said...

I would like to remind you sir, some of those books are or were mine!!!

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Thank you all.

Eve's L, that was the book I referred to.

Tanu, where the fornication did YOU spring from? You read my blog, you corpulent tapeworm?