Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Book (or Six) at Bedtime

Being an Asperger’s type I make little rules for myself. Perhaps it’s a desperate attempt to impose a structure on a frightening internal and external chaos. Perhaps it’s just fun.

There are two rules about the row of books beside the bed: one is that the total mustn’t exceed six inches of shelf space, and to that end I have made a special slot, six inches wide, in the woodwork beside the bed. The other is more complicated: there must be in the collection a poetry book, a novel, a book in Greek, and something in that catch-all class known as ‘Non-fiction’. So if one of the books were, say, Vikram Seth’s ‘The Golden Gate’ and the other Makriyannis’s Journals in the original, I’ve complied with the rule using just two books.

Very often, in spite of the rules, things get out of hand: an urgent piece of reading, or a book on loan that must be returned soon, or just a sudden urge to read such-and-such even though I haven’t finished so-and-so, and the sides of the book slot try to bulge. So it is now, and I must see which of six can be weeded out:

1)      E.M. Forster, ‘The Longest Journey’. I talked about this one the other day, and am still only two-thirds of the way through it. So it must stay.

2)      Richard Burton, ‘A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting’. Over 500 pages about a poet with whose work I was shamefully unfamiliar. Bunting is in danger of being categorized as a ‘Poet’s Poet’, which means, roughly, ‘Very good, but unread.’ Burton’s huge, scholarly, entertaining, and very well researched book quotes generously from the poet himself, and here and there relates the poetry to the often wildly adventurous life. Not in the facile populist ‘Must have’ manner, ("in writing ‘Don Juan’ Byron ‘Must have’ had his travels in the Levant in mind"), nor the extraordinary obsessiveness of G. Livingston Lowes’s ‘The Road to Xanadu’, but just to the extent that his life can shed light on poetry whose every word is carefully chosen, but can still seem difficult. As Burton says, if the book prompts people to read the poetry, then it’s done its job. As soon as I can find an Amazon-free way of getting Bunting’s complete poetry I shall read it, but meanwhile I’m only two-thirds through this book too, so it has to stay in the slot.

3)      Oh, look here, there are still another four books by the bed and I doubt I shall do any weeding. I’m squeezing these two back in the slot now, and I’ll reconsider the other four tomorrow. Maybe.


Here’s are two pictures of Basil Bunting:



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