Monday 18 October 2010

Book mountain

There are five books beside my bed again. And, no, none of them are just waiting for me to get started.  I'm reading all of them. Sort of. It happens from time to time, and generally ends with me sweeping four of the five off onto a shelf somewhere to come back to later. But I haven't yet got to that stage. No matter what experience had taught me, I still feel that I will get through each of them before I put them away.

At the bottom of the pile is No et moi by Delphine de Vigan. Actually this was on the floor under the stool that serves me as a bedside table, because I've been reading it on and off since I bought it in France at Easter. Though it's about teenagers, the French is pretty straightforward, but it requires just a bit more concentration than I can stretch to most nights, so I've lost the plot about a third of the way through. I keep coming back to it, thinking 'oh, this is good, I can read this' then not bothering for a week or so and losing it again. Serves me right for trying to read it in French! I'd have read it in a couple of hours in English.

Next from the bottom is A Tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It's an orange Penguin, dated 1951, and has that lovely, musty old paper smell. The pages are orange-brown at the edges, as if nicotine-stained, and paler, creamy orange in the centre. They feel brittle, as if they would just snap if you dared to bend down a corner (and you'd better not with one of my books!). I'm not sure why I'm reading this, to tell the truth. I only have about two shelves of adult fiction at the moment. The rest have gradually made their way into the attic as the shelf space has been taken over by other books, the kids' books, reference books, I don't really know what altogether, and we've lost shelves with all the building work we did last year and haven't yet replaced them. All the is left to me are two shelves, mostly full of things I've read recently, plus a few strays that somehow misses the big pack up. This isn't the first time I've read A Tree grows in Brooklyn, and it turns out to be just long enough ago that it has a comfortable familiarity, but the plot has become vague. This probably wouldn't have hung around in my next to the bed pile, but we were going away and I was a little afraid for it in my luggage, with its slightly torn cover and scuffed corners. So I left it and took instead Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky). Which I have to say I'm not getting on with very well. I've read all of two chapters in the ten days since I started it, and each time I was doing that thing of flicking forward to check how soon the chapter was going to end. I have to read it for my book group, and I can see that when I pull my finger out and get on with it, I'll start to enjoy it, but I don't need to read it till the end of November, and I can see that it will probably sit there until a week of so before the meeting, and then I'll be forced to consume it in great meaty chunks. The only reason I started reading it early was that I didn't have the next book on the list, Love in a Cold Climate (Mitford), and the reason I didn't have that was that when I ordered all the books on the list I was certain that I already had this in the attic. It is such a trouble to me, all my books being in the attic. I am so very fond of them and I long and long to be able to have them all about me, alphabetised, of course, so that I can immediately see what is there and what is not. Anyway, having sat perched on a rafter among the horrible sleepy flies which wake up when the light goes on, yet again taking scores of books out of boxes and putting them back in again, I found I had to buy a new copy. So at the moment, this is the book I'm picking up to read. And yet again, I think my bookclub has committed the folly of being led astray by the catchy title of a TV series (they did the same thing with An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P D James, which was beautifully written but sorely lacking in intrigue or thrills). Years ago, they serialised this and the book that came before it, The Pursuit of Love under the title Love in a Cold Climate, and I can see why, it's very much catchier and less ordinary. However, this of course leads everyone to think that all that great stuff about growing up in the freezing of country house with nutty father who liked to hunt children etc is in the book called Love in a Cold Climate. But it's not! It's all in The Pursuit of Love. And TPOL is a so much better book. I am enjoying LIACC for sure, Nancy Mitford is always good for a bit of insider fun-poking at the nobs, but I wish I was having to read The Pursuit of Love. Ooh! Perhaps I will treat myself to reading it again when I've finished this one.

I said there were five books, didn't I? The last is The Children's Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2011. This ought to be on my desk really, but I've just bought it, and at the moment I'm reading through the articles rather than using it as a tool. It fills in those moments when I can't even be bothered with Nancy Mitford. Catalogues are good for that too. I usually have catalogues somewher near my bed, gardens, house, clothes, doesn't really matter. I suppose it's just as much fantasy as reading fiction.

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