Sunday, December 09, 2007

Furnished Early In Books

In her Nobel lecture, Doris Lessing makes some fine and moving points about the hunger and necessity for literature in Africa, but is less convincing in her argument that the internet is diverting young people in the West from books. There have, let’s face it, always been distractions and alternatives to the solitary pleasure of immersion in a good book; Facebook and all the other time-wasting fads that pass through the internet like flu in a turkey farm are merely the latest. And given that they get a bare minimum of advertising and media exposure in comparison to films, video games, music and TV, books are probably punching above their weight.

Lessing also suggests that writers come from homes furnished with an abundance of books. Well, I don’t know about that, but most writers definitely seem to have caught the reading bug early, were voracious readers as children, and are voracious readers still. In my case, we didn’t have that many books in our damp little cottage. Maybe thirty or forty. I still remember some of them, because I read and reread them so often. On the Beach. The Cruel Sea. The Battle of the River Plate. What Katie Did. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The Three Musketeers. My grandmother, who lived next door, had about twice that number, mainly faded and dusty Everyman editions (and most of those copies of Shakespeare’s plays) picked up as part of the mixed lots she liked to bid for in auctions. She had a big pile of copies of Reader’s Digest, too; part of being ill, when I was a child, in addition to a bottle of Lucozade and a new comic, was reading four or five Reader’s Digests a day, something that furnished me a fairly eccentric and eclectic view of the world. So I definitely had a serious reading habit, and because we didn’t own many books, and because I couldn’t afford to buy many, either, it was the public library, and the library of the grammar school, that kept it satisfied. Addicts find their fix where they can; back then, before I could afford the hard stuff, even the back of a cereal packet would do.

Away from the distraction of blogging, I seem to have worked out how to finish my big space robot story, started this summer but left fallow because I couldn’t work out what the twist was and where it bit. Sometimes these things come in a glad rush; all too often actual work is involved.


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