Since my last blog I have moved house and decided to change the blog’s title to fit my new surroundings. The last month has been very busy with the said move and I haven’t had much time to read and even less to write. I did however finish the Alan Moore biography mentioned in my last post and would recommend it to anyone interested in the man. It is not the most analytical or psychologically probing book you’ll ever read but it is detailed about his work and has plenty to keep you interested.
Before I came across mention of it in the biography I stumbled upon Moore’s latest book, ‘Jerusalem’. Which to all intents and purposes appears to be genuinely his Magnum Opus. It’s been in the works for a decade or so and is around 1200 pages long (and the pages are dense: ‘Think bible’ says one reviewer). I am notoriously bad at finishing long novels but I felt I just had to have this book having so recently moved into Moore’s neck of the woods. It will sit in my new house, rather like a household bible I think, possibly (but hopefully not) largely unread but it will ‘live’ in the house and bring it some sense of psychogeographical resonance I hope.
Having placed all my books (about 100 boxes worth) in the newly boarded loft for the moment, I’ve started to have dreams of the ceiling falling in due to the weight. I keep envisioning the cracks int the ceiling widening and timber and books burying all four of us. When I told Sarah, my wife, this she said she’d had the same dream. Alan Moore’s tome then, when it arrives next week, will live downstairs in the world of the everyday and not be thrust up into the rafters, as it might just prove to be the book straw that broke the Farthingstone camel’s back.
I will definitely have to dig out my Batchlard’s ‘The Poetics of Space’ to see what he says about lofts and attics. If you’ve never read Batchlard’s book but like say Jung or Joseph Campbell, I’d recommend it. It makes you think about the space you live in and how that space drenches its essence into how you feel. We know this and notice it mostly when we move but the presence of the space we live in, literally, cradles the life we are living.
I not sure if many other people feel this but although I’ve been a reader all my life, I feel a failure when it comes to reading the classics. I’ve certainly read my fair share of them but when I pick up something lighter, more popular, I often castigate myself internally for wasting my time on such matter. Then I castigate myself for castigating myself. There’s a good case for saying all culture is ‘worthy’ and enriching, one might say, ‘Just read where the will takes you and stop worrying, ‘The Canon’ is a literary and cultural conceit invoked to assert superiority and class divides’. And yet I have never shaken the desire to have read the canon, impossible as that is. This goes hand it hand with my desire to read every book of my favourite authors (or even just authors I think are interesting).
Having bought most of the easily obtainable and ubiquitous classics, I now find a real delight in finding the lesser known works by famous writers or artists. So, for instance, off the top of my head I can think of a novel by Dali that I have, the book of Jerome K Jerome’s journey to Germany which I came across unpacking (neither of who’s titles I can remember) or say ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ by Thomas Hardy. These aren’t the best examples of what I’m thinking of just what comes immediately to mind.
Basically, I’ve bought many of the obscurer works by famous authors and people because I have a desire to absorb the ‘complete works’. The older you get however the more you realise this is an impossible, endless task and you will stumble across an immensely famous/successful/classic author every week without too much trouble. How many of you, for instance, have read (or perhaps even heard of) Procopius or Perec? And if you have… what about Longfellow or Perez Galdos? And these are, believe me, only a few of the more famous names that come randomly to mind.
I’m rambling now but I love CS Lewis’ ‘The Discarded Image’, Rudolf Steiner’s ‘Christianity as Mystical Fact’ and Christopher Frayling’s ‘Strange Landscape’ but how many other people will have read all three of these books? The combinations of what we end up reading, I guess, is what makes us who we are as readers. What we gain, our unique reading experience.
We cannot read it all and that is as Sixto Roderiguez would say is a ‘cold fact’ and this does begin to dawn on one as the cold night shades of life begin to descend. You can’t even read a fraction of what has been written about what has been written.
You may be a genre fan, love detective fiction for example, but even within a single limited field, whilst you can become an expert, you never will have read it all. This is especially true when, nowadays, more books are published each year than were published in the past 2000 years. There is a tidal wave of books to read and the more you buy the more you feel buried by it all. I have owned and lost half of what I have now and it took a while but eventually I realised that I would not suffer too greatly from not having those ‘lost books’ around. Having said that however the pleasure is NOT just in the reading, I would say, but also, too, in the owning of books, but yet, that ownership is temporary, fragile and limited much like our life.
Digital books still do not give one the psycho-geographical-material –sensibility of life in the way physical books do. Physical books ground you, weight one down. The physical book is a place, an oasis, a structure into which we can delve, dive, hide, ignite, immerse and soak ourselves in and with. They are small, mobile structures, slabs of beauty you can put in your pocket but like all hedonistic pleasures you can over indulge.
One still needs to engage with the world directly to, in fact, bring books to life when you do read. One needs experiences of the real to appreciate the resonances of the written. But books are a home, a meta-home, to be placed within one’s home (one’s dwelling and mulling place), by one’s fireside hearth, on the mantle, the sill and the shelf. They are not life but they should be part of it, the virtual digits are still too ethereal, Platonic ideals that waver somehow, like light on water, beyond our firmer more substantial physical realities. The paper page is still the place I prefer to lay my eyes and make connections, its stable nature is what I want in a world of chaos, in the world where death is beyond and behind every door.
One should try not to be fearful of death but, let’s put it off shall we, by occasionally (or frequently if we can) reading and thus keeping its presence firmly shut out while we are living delightedly inside, following the crystal streams and glint of the mystical, the inspired, magical, fantastical, prosaic, grounded, embedded, striking, delightful, funny, joyful, elemental, saddening and awe driven word.