A Few Volumes More

Something about this process of recalling old books seems to require revision &/or addition. I remember The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling as an enduring fascination in my childhood. A red, clothbound hardback that, like its companion The Jungle Book, was serially falling apart, which was intriguing in itself. The stories were illustrated by the author & there were curious embellishments to the drawings & to the texts themselves. A sort of extravagance that had nothing insistent or overbearing about it. Wonderful tales, all of them, but the ones about the invention of writing impressed me above all. And the runes themselves, reproduced somewhere therein.

When I was about eleven I read J R R Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings in a three volume hardback edition with a burning eye on the olive green dust jacket cover of each. It blew my mind. But, here's the rub, when I re-read it, which I did quite soon after & then several, or many, times more, it wasn't the same book! Nor did the movie(s) ever approach anywhere near that first imagining, which I’ve never found again … after a while I gave up on it & the last time I picked up a copy, was filled with ennui. Two lessons, I guess - you can exhaust a book; & you can never quite recover the thrill of a first reading.

Going over in my mind some of the prose works I read in the 1970s, one that left an indelible mark was Pablo Neruda's Memoirs, which I don't own a copy of & never have. It was revelatory in the way that, say, Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude was. Except, & this was crucial for me, Neruda was using that magic realist prose not in the service of a fiction but for a description of his life. It was impressive that a life could be so poetic - that was how I understood it. I did not know this before reading that book. It is also interesting, in retrospect, to think that I would prefer to re-read that book to any of Neruda's poetry. An autobiography, then, can cancel a life's work as much as it can cancel a life - though only, I am sure, for some readers. The prosaic among us, perhaps.

I was going to go on & write about Lytton Strachey's Life of Queen Victoria, & Frenchman Philippe Jullian's biography of Oscar Wilde, but, somewhat to my dismay, neither is on my shelves any longer. Where can they have gone?

Something else is on my mind however. Among our books at home was a yellow hardcover written by Enid Blyton. Name is lost, but it was a sombre illustrated version of The Pilgrims' Progress in which the sins committed by the wayfarers were expressed physically as burdens lashed to their backs. If they could make their way to the Celestial City then the implacable ropes tying these loathsome bundles to their backs would be loosed & they would be set free. I remember particularly an episode in which one of the pilgrims over-balanced & fell backwards, no doubt into the Slough of Despond, & was dragged under by the weight of his sins. I often wish I'd never read this horrible book which left a lifelong impression, like a muddy stain, on my soul.

At this point I should be reaching for my copy of Carl Jung's Dreams, Memories, Reflections, except I no longer have it either. Or, for another kind of consolation, Flaubert's Salammb├┤. But that too I never owned, having read a small blue hardback from some library or other, in another time, in some city of the past.


deemikay said...

Good post - as was the previous one.

Borges was similarly life changing for me - my life really did change over night after reading one story by him. And Neruda.

And I know what you mean about the Lord of the Rings - I've no urge to read it again but the first reading was amazing. My first encounters with it turned it into a big mystery. I had a book when I was 7 called "An A to Z of Monsters" and it was just that. I devoured it - sci-fi mosters, film monsters, literary ones. The author had never read Tolkein, so things that he mentioned in passing got inflated into myths. (There was a slight disappointment when I got to the LotR, but not for long.)

Anyway, this'll be boring now... :)

Martin Edmond said...

Hey, deemikay - good to read some scots poetry. & why is 'to marry a scotsman' such an insult among gypsies I wonder? liked your deconstruction, too, of the poet who lazily evoked the fibonacci numbers.

deemikay said...

Is it an insult? I've never heard that one! There are so many reasons it could be true that I won't begin to list them... :)

I sort of regretted my Fibonacci post at first, but decided that as he'd have insulted me for countless things (he dislikes an awful lot) he probably deserved it.

Thanks for visiting.