The Curing of a Bibliomaniac: Aftermath

And now for the proof of my personal growth through this project.

When I first embarked upon this project, it was in recognition that I had always been a bibliophile, but quite without meaning to, I had slipped into madness and become a full-blown bibliomaniac.

 

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Space? Space is for filling with more books.

Space? Space is for filling with more books.

I began with hundreds of books across three different bookcases. They were also on top of the bookcases.

And stacked horizontally in the spaces between the top of the rows and the bottom of the shelf above.

And tesselated artfully into the little gaps that were left over.

This was rather less healthy than plain old bibliophilia, and I knew it had to end.

 

And it has.

 

I have gradually weeded out piles as I’ve gone through each letter of the alphabet with this project, on the justification that if I didn’t choose them for the project, they obviously didn’t excite me that much overall and probably wouldn’t next time I went searching for something to read.

photoNow I have ditched hundreds of books. Crateload after crateload. Many I had already read. Some I had not.

And you know what? I felt lighter and freer with each one. I realised that for some time I had no longer owned these books. They had owned me. All that they represented was my own guilt at not having the time to read them all, even though many had lost their relevance long ago.

They never matched anyhow!

They never matched anyhow!

In fact, it felt so good that like a woman possessed, I got rid of the shelves as well.

Now we have discarded three full size bookshelves that were overpowering tiny Shell Cottage.

We have space to hang pictures, to dance around, to place a cushy armchair for more comfortable reading spaces!

 

There is one more bookshelf to be emptied and sold. Soon I will curate my collection to fit into the one little bookshelf left, that will match The Ministry’s.

Then we will each just have one (apart from the bookshelf containing The Ministry’s complete Dragonlance book collection, which will outlive us all and probably the nuclear holocaust).

 

I will stay a bibliophile. I will hold, love, sniff and touch my own books (and others’…) in ways bordering on the creepy.

I will still buy books and support bookstores – probably more so than I have been able to justify doing in years. But I will avoid commitment and letting them move in with me forever. I will buy, enjoy and pass on. If one captures my heart and is allowed to stay, then another will have to gracefully vacate the premises.

This project has become something much more than it began as my friend Juji suggested when I was thinking of a way to revive my neglected blog. It has become an exercise in a personal journey inspired in part by minimalism, in part by the idea of vagabonding and most of all by a desire to embrace more than the past.

So as much as may have cursed you over the past, very challenging blogging year – thank you Juji! You’ve given me a precious gift – the space for new dreams.

How to Cure a Bibliomaniac: Best Of

OMG WHAT DID SHE CHOOSE, THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING YOU

OMG WHAT DID SHE CHOOSE, THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING YOU

Gosh, it’s an interesting experience to look back through what you’ve read in a year!

And remember the pleasures of the great books and, admittedly, the tedium of the less-amazing books.

To be sure, not one of the titles I read was a bad book, but the blazing light of the best as listed here really testify as to why I embarked upon this project in the first place – to teach myself that any book you’re not enjoying is not worth forcing yourself to finish. When you read a book you’re loving, you’re really enjoying, you know it.

And you know what? These books were overall quite serious books. One I finished sobbing like a bereft child. But they didn’t drag, and they didn’t depress. They just glowed. They make you realise life’s too short to read anything second-best. So from now on, I’m only finishing stuff I love. Hell, I’m only starting stuff I love. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to read smart books or hard books. But they have to be great.

So without further ado, the best books I read this past 52 weeks:

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I’m not going to rank them, it’s too close a call. Trust me, and read them all.

(If you won’t trust me, at least trust Dr Seuss)

 
031Honorable mention:

On Beauty – Zadie Smith (radiant, absorbing)

To be honest, this was just as good as the others, but I didn’t have a copy of it any more because I decided to pass that one on so it could brighten other people’s lives. So it didn’t get in the group photo.

Stay tuned! Before this project officially closes, one more post to come… The Aftermath

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 26: Rumpole of the Bailey (John Mortimer, 1978)

Books left: ZEEEEEEEERRRRRRROOOOO. Weeks left: 1.5 (KILLED that deadline).

rumpole“A few mornings later I picked up the collection of demands, final demands and positively final demands which constitutes our post and among the hostile brown envelopes I found a gilded and embossed invitation card. I took the whole lot into the kitchen to file away in the tidy bin when She Who Must Be Obeyed entered and caught me at it. 
‘Horace,’ She said severely. ‘Whatever are you doing with the post?’ 
‘Just throwing it away. Always throw bills away the first time they come in. Otherwise you only encourage them.'”

 

The shame of doing a project based on authors’ surnames is that of course, I don’t have a proper Z book to finish things off with a bang. So I decided to end the project with a heroic whimper and pick a random, easy book starting with anything. My criteria was to choose both the shortest fun book I could find and the funnest (yes) short book I could find. And to tail off the whimper appropriately I’m going to write a real cop-out of a review, hurrah!

Well, there’s honestly not that much to say about Rumpole, which is not to discount Mortimer’s comedic genius one whit.

Rumpole stories feature the cases, episode by episode, of Horace Rumpole, a lawyer in a disreputable hat who is comfortably free of ambition and takes delight in defending criminals, petty or otherwise. He occasionally breaks out into quoting poetry, usually at inappropriate moments. He has a collection of mystified colleagues and a terrifying wife called She Who Must Be Obeyed. The stories are as clever and entertaining as the lovably droll Rumpole.

I can see why they made this a TV series, which I didn’t know about, but which the Matriarch mentioned when I told her I was reading this book. Might try to sniff it out.

As intended, a cosy and altogether trauma-free option to round off the project.

So there it is. I’m drained, I’m exhausted, I have an utterly love-hate relationship with this blog. But I’ll give you a closing summary of the project in the next post, along with a Best Of. For now, I’m happy to leave this at cop-out level and go and nurse my tired brain by gargling cheese and wine, Bridget Jones-style.

Over and out.

HURRAH!

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 25: The Warriors (Sol Yurick, 1965)

Books left: 1. Weeks left: 3. (Hurrah! Only a little delirious.)

‘Well, now we move on like a war party, even though we wanted peace. Anyone could tell you we wanted peace. Well, now it’s too late for that.’ 

the warriorsThe bottle was finished. Bimbo flung it into the air toward where the trailer and the bitch skulked. It arched and shone high, but splintered short of the mark; the bitch and the Blazer bounced high over the fragments slivering along the sidewalk.
Now they moved out, swiftly, leader and brothers, all knowing exactly what to do, bonded into One. Muscle tightened, compressing body a little so that biceps bunched, and triceps tensed, fists balled, shoulder hunched, legs flexed, trunk tilting, every part taut to sense. 

It’s hot and the firecrackers are starting. It’s the Fourth of July and the gangs of New York are meeting for a convention led by Ismael, the city’s best-known gang leader.

A unprecedented truce has been called, so that all of the city’s hundreds of gangs can cross enemy turf. But when things go wrong, the Family – the Coney Island Dominators – are far from home and behind enemy lines.

The Warriors covers each hour of the whole, dangerous night it takes them to get back home.

The tension begins with the opening line and builds as the Family’s warriors complete the first leg of a long train journey, then having no choice but to put their faith in Ismael’s boys to lead them deep into unknown territory. There is a flash, a single moment, of hope for them and all the thousands of gang members assembled, a glimpse of a future of power and of unity – though it is but a glimpse, and devolves with lightning speed into chaos after a sickening moment of violence, an early climax that unlike other climaxes offers no subsequent relief, but more suspense as the warriors realise how far they are from safety.

The subject invites comparisons with other gang stories – the character-driven but hopeless charm of West Side Story; S. E. Hinton’s tragic but redemptive The Outsiders and Rumble Fish; Warren Miller’s 1959 gang novel The Cool World (again, yes, the one the movie was based on). Miller himself compares The Warriors to Lord of the Flies – in fact he says it is better.

Finally, of course, I was from the get-go comparing the book to its famous 1979 movie adaptation also titled The Warriors, though to be honest despite the movie’s cult reputation it never evoked any huge response from me – I barely remember it.

One thing I don’t remember was it being about evil. But this was evil. More evil than The Outsiders, whose soft hearts under their toughness make you love them. By the middle of this book the utter cold, shocking nastiness of the events unfolding was clenching my stomach. I began to see why Miller compared it to Lord of the Flies.

I read a lot of violent books, and I watch a lot of violent movies and TV shows, and I must say I do enjoy a good bloodletting. It’s usually tied to a genre, and follows a pattern. You know why it’s happening and usually it’s between a bad person and a good person. Eventually, usually, the goody wins.

This is different. It sure ain’t good clean fun like Jack Reacher or John McClane beating up a baddy. It’s not genre fiction. It gets under the skin of things and what’s under the skin is senseless, or at least, the sense it makes is unpalatable, depressing to contemplate. There is no nice clean line between good and evil. Yurik forces you into this uncomfortable, but inescapable space, so you find yourself disgusted at the warriors and at yourself for caring about them, but you can’t help it, because you have seen their minds and discovered that they are people.

Yurick uses the third-person omniscient to this effect, allowing you to know each boy he battles the hostilities of the night and also his other Family members. You see their interminable, wearying power struggles but also the comfort they find in being One, instead of no one. There is a pride in the Family they cannot otherwise access.

Those pins, they were the Family sign and they stood or fell with their signs, and it was the mark that a man belonged – they were one. To take them off was to be like any heartless slob coolie who wouldn’t take chances; without important affiliations. And so they must go along with the whole bit. It made them men.

Some of the boys remain impenetrable, but you see two particularly: Hector, who assumes the fatherhood of the gang when they are separated from Papa Arnold, and Hinton, the newest member, who stands always a little apart. It is his lonely, anguished soliloquy, stripped of masculinity, we eavesdrop on when he is separated from the others and forced to walk into the seemingly endless blackness of a railway tunnel, a memorable piece of writing.

Quick point of interest for fans: the story is inspired by the Greek classic work Anabasis, by Xenophon. Interestingly, Yurick says frankly in his introduction to this edition that The Warriors is not his best book. I get that. It was a fine book and well worth the reading, but I won’t keep it. It was certainly a better book than it was a movie, although doubtless the movie is more enjoyable. The movie is extremely watered-down in terms of violence – which is essentially what the whole book was about – and backs away from several other of the book’s central tenets, including turning an all-black gang into an improbably racially mixed one. Yurick, who after years of thought, experience and planning finally spat out this novel in an “intense” three-week writing binge that surely accounts for the headlong suspense of the reading experience, calls the movie “trashy, though beautifully filmed” and the dialogue painful and inauthentic, and said it deeply disappointed him.

After reading his book, I can see why. And yet, you cannot deny (and neither does he) The Warriors movie has endured in a way the simply has not. People want beauty. Perhaps they want a white gang leader. They don’t want horror and rape and violence. They want something a little nicer. Hell, while I was reading it, I wanted something a little nicer. You can’t blame people for that. But if you’re a fan of the film, do yourself a favour and check out the rawness, the reality of the original.

Keep or kill? I’ll pass this on for some Warriors film fan to come across in the op shop and get all excited, same way I did when I bought this. Feeling evilly smug at the shock they are going to get.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 24: The Outward Urge (John Wyndham, 1959)

Books left: 2. Weeks left: 5 (oooh. Panicked rush produced gains. Maybe I’ll just have a little rest. Just five minutes.)

There are not, at any time, many people who have – what do you call it in English? – Divine discontent? Vision? Most men like to be settled among their familiar things with a notice on the door: “Do Not Disturb.” They would still have that notice hanging outside their caves if it were not for the few discontented men. 

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John Wyndham, best known for The Day of the Triffids, was an intelligent man of wide experience who dabbled in careers including farming, law, commercial art, advertising and the military as well as writing.

His scientific imagination is formidable – this is the man who brought us, among many other titles, not only the Triffids but The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (better known under the name of film adaptation The Village of the Damned) and The Kraken Wakes, one of my most beloved novels and one that gave me a lifelong passion for sea monsters.

His biography points out he even tried writing detective fiction, which gives me an immediate thump of excitement and urge to rush off and start Googling. But one book at a time Emma.

It’s fascinating to discover what such a man imagined would be the stages and methods of man’s exploration of space, writing as he did a decade before the first Moon landing. And he doesn’t stop at the Moon – chapters one to four are The Space Station, set in 1994, The Moon, in 2044, Mars, in 2094 and Venus in 2144. The fifth, published for the first time in another edition two years later and thereafter alongside the others in its Penguin editions, is The Emptiness of Space: The Asteroids 2194 and is a melancholic and slightly odd little addendum, only 18 pages long.

Wyndham ties them together with the device of the Troon family, whose successive generations each play key roles in the milestones each chapter relates, thanks to their unquenchable, seemingly genetic yen for space.

It’s fascinating to see how Wyndham visualises the technology involved, the characteristics of Mars and Venus, the particulars of humans dealing with life in space and zero-gravity and the politics of those left behind, dealing with the inevitable question: who owns space?

He is one of my favourite writers and his incisive political mind, which helped make The Kraken Wakes such a chillingly realistic read, is at its sharpest in dealing with questions such as these. In this book as in all others his writing is quiet, dry and mannered but crackling with suspense and the pull of the unknown.

In fact I could not detect at all the presence of another voice, namely Lucas Parkes, acknowledged as a co-author on the cover. I felt vindicated in this when a search revealed that Lucas Parkes was a pen-name Wyndham occasionally used and in this case, the book being closer to conventional hard science fiction style and less like Wyndham’s other novels, publishers decided to use the joint byline. At least this is according to Wikipedia.

The book slipped down easily enough but I must confess, not accompanied by the sense of excitement or compulsion I usually feel with a Wyndham. I suspect my indifference is due at least in part to my well-documented dislike of short stories – this book’s parts are better described as related short stories rather than chapters. Each has a new setting, time period and introduces a new principal character, though of course each is a Troon and they are linked by their blood and their singular obsession.

So it may be only a matter of personal taste, but I will pass this one on as a curiosity to amuse space buffs, to satisfy the appetites of this Project to burn away all extraneous matter and leave only what is holy. In fact, in a show of unprecedented bravery I am just going to keep The Kraken Wakes as my favourite and let the rest go.

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac part 23: Boating for Beginners (Jeanette Winterson, 1985)

Books left: 3. Weeks left: 6 (just keep swimming).

‘I’d rather play Battleships but we haven’t any graph paper, have we?’
They hadn’t, and so they were forced to talk about the Space-Time Continuum, and whether or not you should write books which clearly fixed themselves into time or books which flouted the usual notion of time in order to clear the mind of arbitrary divisions.

boating for beginners

I revere many novelists, but it’s fair to say there are some for whom my feelings run deepest.

They include Peter Carey. Carol Shields. Lucy Maud Montgomery (shush). Isobelle Carmody. John Marsden. Tim Winton. John Wyndham.

And Jeanette Winterson.

My affair with Winterson (and it seems entirely appropriate to describe reading her books as such) began during my English degree with The Passion. This novel was assigned for a unit on postmodern narratives, but don’t hold that against it.

I’ve actually only read a couple more of her works since then, but this was enough to make Winterson one of the authors to make the most lasting impressions on me.

Long after the details of The Passion‘s alluring stories of labyrinthine Venice have faded, I remember how arrestingly its language and characters hit me, the pull of its mystery.

Winterson’s writing is sensual, thematically complex and unexpected. Her power of invention is so dazzling it seems inadequate to term it imagination or originality. Her creativity is not about novelty, charming though her novelties are; it is about what they ultimately serve to reveal, the truths about how people think and what they desire.

At least, that’s how I remember it. Is it any wonder I haven’t picked up one for so long? After uni, I craved meat and potatoes reading for several years, hence my impressive mental crime novel catalogue. And sometimes you just get out of the habit of wanting to be really moved, really unsettled. You just think… I’ve had a long day at work. I need some simple entertainment.

This sort of thinking has resulted in me hoarding several unread Wintersons for more than several years, so I thought it time to see if we still clicked, or whether my love was one best left in the past.

So I open the book and the storm hits.

Boating for Beginners, which I shamelessly chose because it was short, features a romance author called Bunny Mix, a God made of animated ice-cream and Noah, who created that God in a culinary accident.

They are pretending to make a blockbuster film, but they are actually planning to wreak havoc, destroy the world and rewrite history.

Unless, as synchronised swimmer-turned-transsexual potter Marlene says, a group of girls succeed in making “one heroic attempt at foiling that cosmic dessert and the little chocolate button that created him.”

‘I like reading books,’ insisted Marlene, ‘but I’m more concerned with how to get rid of the cellulite on my thighs. I mean, there’s plenty of books around but I’ve only got this one body.
‘Art shows us how to transcend the purely physical,’ said Gloria loftily.
‘Yes, but Art won’t get rid of my cellulite, will it?’
‘Art will show you how to put your cellulite in perspective,’ replied Gloria, wondering for a moment who was feeding her her lines.
‘I don’t want to put it in perspective,’ Marlene tried to be patient. ‘I want to get rid of it.”

Boating for Beginners turns out to be what the author herself described as a “comic book with pictures”, a laugh-out loud alternative to the Biblical flood myth, and a gimlet-eyed look at why people react to the story so powerfully.

I need not have feared it too smart to be fun. This story about people believing any story put to them, and creating their own histories, is wonderfully, confidently absurd.

I have decided to keep my pile of unread Wintersons and be less shy about dipping into it next time. Winterson is by no means a one-trick pony. She sparkles – and surprises – every time and deserves to be read now, not kept for another day.

We’re back on, in other words.

Keep or kill? In my new tradition (I am learning from this project) I am going to pass this on along with my other already-read Winterson titles. But I’m keeping those yet unread and I’m keeping The Passion.

 

 

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 22: The Meaning of Friendship (Mark Vernon, 2010)

Books left: 4. Weeks left: 7 (breathe in, breathe out. Undo metaphysical belt of brain.)

Almost as pretty as a white-fleshed nectarine, and at least with a nectarine you know what you're getting.

Almost as pretty as a white-fleshed nectarine, but at least with a nectarine you know what you’re getting.

Wow, found a book with an author’s name starting with V, and that if nothing else is testament to the necessity of this project.

I see its pretty jacket and sail in, blithely unaware of the small note I later discover in the blurb that the book is a revised version of one previously titled The Philosophy of Friendship.

Consider your warning unheeded, sirs!

 

 

Vernon’s book is an examination of the rules and functions of friendship in contemporary society, with chapters on subjects such as friendships at work, the possibility of being ‘just friends’ and not lovers, friending online, friendship as it relates to politics, and friendship as a spiritual experience. He peppers his text with examples from both real life and pop culture, and simultaneously links it to the works of philosophers including Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Foucault, Kant and Aquinas.

He paints a portrait of the ancient world that shows clearly how civilisation once valued friendship, though official structures, language patterns and customs, in ways it now does not; and calls for us to reconsider, as he has retitled his book, the meaning of friendship.

Why is it that modern society has no public means of recognising the bonds formed between friends, a fact that is in stark contrast to the family, which is celebrated as the very basis of community? Surely friendship plays a vital part in that too … it is not just that friendship is not recognised in society, whereas family is, but that the particularity of friendship can often be regarded as a threat to the unconditional love that is supposed to reign within the family too. Why else do individuals somehow feel they must renegotiate a long-term friendship when their friend gets married? Or, to put it another way: is there not a steely strand in the ethic of modern marriage which repels anything that compromises the unconditional commitment of husband and wife – ‘forsaking all others,’ as the service says? Close friendship can count as infidelity quite as much as a fling or affair.

This is a deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs. For all Kant may wish it, and ethical discourse may ignore it, friendship will not cease. Aristotle’s intuition is right: it has to do with self-love, and it is certainly partial, but it is also undoubtedly necessary for a happy life. Moreover, if friendship is rising back up the agenda of people’s personal commitments, as marriage reforms and other institutions of belonging become less reliable, then an ethical discourse that takes friendship seriously is needed, not least to provide some structure for people who want to make the most of it. Friendship will always be full of ambiguities. We’ve established that by now. But that does not mean it is not possible to think through them and welcome friendship as a key, if complicated, facet of life – which, after all, is only complicated itself.

As Vernon outlines, friendship has been a topic largely ignored by most philosophers. Many of the philosophers he references in depth here are a product of those ancient times in which friendship was valued more highly. This means his book is not only justified as an unprecedented study but that he has also been able to have a jolly good stab at assembling the gist of it all in one book of modest length. For a philosophy fan it will no doubt be a valued addition to the library as its subject matter, as well as the approach through a modern lens, is unique.

Note I say philosophy fans and not people like me, with gnat-like attention spans.

I consider myself a charming blend of literary snob and member of the unwashed masses. I like books with corpses or explosions or humour or if they are Serious Literary Fiction I like them to have stunningly beautiful prose. I am reluctant with documentaries, nonfiction or even things that smell of them, such as satire, to the point I even hesitated on the very funny New Zealand vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows because I thought it might be too realistic for Sunday entertainment. But I do enjoy the nonfiction I end up consuming from time to time – recent examples being tiny house movement documentary Tiny and Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought. Point is, surely I can’t be alone in finding both ancient history and philosophy a hard slog, and now I’m no longer a pretentious 20-year-old who carries around a Nietzsche tome she is unable to finish, I can admit it.

By the middle of Vernon’s book my interest has flatlined and I fight my way to the final chapters rather grimly, cursing not Vernon or his subject matter but the book’s clever marketing that has led me to buy it in the first place (PRETTY COLOURS). It’s not difficult as such, thanks to Vernon’s engaging style, but I must say I don’t plan to pass it on to anyone I know unless they have a burning interest in the subject.

Having said that, the last do raise some intensely interesting topics, exploring far-reaching and fascinating histories of gender and same-sex relationship issues, and this has cheered me up a little by the time I embark heroically upon the conclusion. Here, Vernon has somehow travelled through time and space and seen my boredom and secret wishes for a fluffy self-help book, because his final chapter, Friendship Beyond Self-Help, draws to the heart of why he has written a book of philosophy.

Perhaps the key to a fulfilled life is not to be self-centred but other-centred, to lose yourself in order to find it. That’s a common religious sentiment, and it’s one attested to by the experience of friendship too. Aristotle has a particularly powerful account of it, when he talks of the friend being another self, the person in whom you not only see yourself reflected but in who you discover yourself. There is no being human on a desert island, any more than there are such things as solitary ants. The good life is the attempt to live for others in life. As Iris Murdoch has it, love is ‘the painful realisation that something other than myself exists.’
This perhaps partly explains why there is no end to self-help books. They are condemned to struggle with this conundrum – they solution they offer – attend to yourself – is actually part of the problem.

Consider me chastised!

Keep or Kill? I’m not going to re-read it, so unless someone of a more academic bent than me wants it, it’s going on the No Pile.