01 Sep

Dear reader, I don’t know about you, but when I go into someone’s house I take the first civil opportunity to go through the bookshelf, if it’s in a public area. It seems as if what is there is some clue to the personality of the books’ owner(s), and more: what is there can be a plank for a bridge between us. “Oh, I see you have Being and Nothingness.” “Yes, but I haven’t had time to read it.” “And The Open Society and its Enemies.”

“Yes, great book.” “Yes, though I think Popper is too mean to Wittgenstein.” “You know, that’s what I think too…” and you’ve enriched your association and maybe even started a lasting friendship.Of course, a bookshelf in someone’s lounge/living room may not exhaust a collection, any more than a meeting in a social gathering exhausts some one’s real self. Hidden under the bed, or in a closet, or wherever, may be that collection of porn magazines that shows an entirely different side to the person; perhaps less interestingly but nonetheless revealingly, there are stacks of Reader’s Digestshidden somewhere: the guilty secret.What has been one of the great disappointments in my life, however, has been a different kind of revelation from a host’s bookshelf. Many times, the collection reveals a striving intellect whose dimensions suddenly contract on finishing formal education – say, university. Sartre and Husserl and Wittgenstein, Popper and Marx and Plato, and Shakespeare and Donne, and Milton, and Shaw, all suddenly give way to pulp fiction of some sort or other, and it’s obvious. As the years roll on, the dimensions of the mind have rolled up. Now, I write pulp fiction, and I am not denigrating it in the slightest: it has its role in life even for the most robust “intellectual”. My aim in writing is to infuse my chosen genre with some intellectual fizz.But that is only one aspect of life, of the life of the mind, and those who “go off” more serious reading are diminished as people. That doesn’t mean they are not nice; they are. It doesn’t make their lives less wholesome; they may indeed lead far more wholesome lives than mine. But it does mean – say I – that the potential of their intellect has been thwarted to some degree.

Is this unfair? Probably. But it’s true too, or has its measure of truth. I don’t own a television, and watch in others people’s houses reluctantly, not because television doesn’t have a place in our lives – it does – but because life really is too short for me to get through all the more satisfying intellectual (and by this I include emotional) adventures on offer, in particular but not only through books. I have spent getting on to thirty years now “exploring” Shakespeare, and I’m not done yet! I scarcely know many exciting writers, or know them less well than I would like – Donne, for example. And the thrill of reading Euripides, my previous post, knowing that this was a man who lived around 2500 years ago, whose mind is reaching across all that time, as an artist, an intellect, a philosopher, a human being…how can television stand up to that? It’s an individual relationship, me and Euripides, Shakespeare and I, and the others. They speak to me – and I speak back.

So when I see that someone has dropped out of this adventure – and my experience is that this usually happens on leaving formal education – it doesn’t mean I don’t like them, but that I am a bit sad for them; I think they’re missing out, not becoming the people they could become.

Is that arrogant? Maybe it is, but I hope it’s not. Many of my best friends don’t read at all and I don’t judge them for it. It just seems to me to be sad for them, that they have never discovered the joys of reading. We still have a great time together on the planes of existence that matter to us, to our relationship.

Still, when I meet someone whose shelves are groaning from the weight, overflowing with a broad range of books with some intellectual grunt, I feel of frisson of pleasure, of anticipation: I think I have found a friend, and usually I have.

In the broader sense, a person’s bookshelves do reveal something about them: their tastes somehow show something about who they are, just as their taste in music does: Mozart and Beethoven v Wagner for example. My book collection shows my ambitions, my past and my development, my pretensions and my failures in a very sophisticated way I think. Yes, there is something “under the bed” too, and there are gaps that are as revealing as what is there.

This series, these “blogs”, does something similar. As I’ve gone along, I’ve begun to see how writing about my influences comprises a kind of intellectual autobiography: my mind’s life’s journey. I hope it’s interesting in its own right, not because it’s about my mind’s predilections. After all, if I get fascinated by someone or something, I will be Kantian enough to believe it to be interesting to anybody, at least potentially.

The other side of that is being open to new interests, new tastes, new experiences, and reading as a practice ought to teach this, to each of us. If reading focuses the mind, it also opens it. So say I.

My next stop, I think, is Plato, but thought I might have a wee ramble through wider paddocks first. And you know that my other pastime – butterfly soothing – must get its due.

A screed. It is worth at least a dozen stars, mostly blue and yellow ones, but choose others if you wish.


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Published on July 20, 2012 14:40 • 28 views • Tags: books,friendshippersonalityreadingtelevison

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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in random chatter


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