Locked Down in London, Day 29: Too Many Books?
A few years ago we had to have some repairs done to our roof and for a few days we had a workman in. On the last day he finished work early and had to wait for a colleague to pick him up with the company van. We sat him down in the living room with a cup of tea, and he looked at the bookshelves and asked: “How many books do you have?”
Well, truth be told, I don’t know. Mostly I feel that not enough. At some point however we did try to catalogue them by using a scanning program and although we never finished and keep forgetting scanning new books in, I was able to make an educated guess.
“About three thousand,” I said.
His jaw dropped. “Three thousand! And did you read them all?”
That made my jaw drop. “Well, of course…” I have read a lot more than 3000 books in my life, actually. The ones on the bookshelves – those are just my favourites.
Literary Escape: Books That Make You Look Good When Dead?
“Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”
(P. J. O’Rourke)
I’m sure we all know somebody who never reads but proudly displays his intellectual status by having bought in the collected works of Dickens. As far as I’m concerned, for example, on reflection I have to admit that actually I haven’t read all three thousand volumes in the house. And I don’t just mean that I haven’t read all of Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s books – most of which I qualify under smart-arsery – but that I myself have a couple of books that actually I bought because it would make me look good if I dropped dead with them in hand.
And then never read.
The Republic by Plato
I don’t know what maggot got into my head when I bought this one on an impulse from one of those tables selling second-hand books on the South Bank. I mean I do like the Ancient Greeks but I never liked philosophy. My philosophy starts with Matsuo Basho and ends with Omar Khayyam; it can be summed up as ‘Let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we will be dead’ and that’s where I would really like to leave it. So what the devil was I doing buying Plato?
Looking good, that’s what.
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Strictly speaking, that one is not mine. It belongs to Mr Anglo-Saxonist but he freely admits that he bought it out of sheer intellectual snobbery. He never got any further than the madeleine episode; but the other day he picked it up out of lockdown desperation and gave it another five minutes of his time – that’s five minutes he’s not going to get back, he said.
Antología Poética by Francisco de Quevedo
One day in Rye in Sussex we stopped to mooch around in a promisingly quirky looking second-hand bookshop and I discovered a book of Spanish poetry. It was a comprehensive collection of the poetry of Francisco de Quevedo, a Spanish poet from the early 17th century, whom I mostly knew only as a character in Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s delightful series about Captain Alatriste. Here was an excellent opportunity to read his actual poems. Er… yes. Except my Spanish really is not up to it; something I realised as soon as I opened the book in the bookshop. So why did I get it? Because the bookshop owner complimented me on both being able to speak Spanish and on having an excellent taste.
Of course, I keep telling myself that someday my Spanish will be able to cope with Quevedo!
Time to revise your own bookshelves – what book do you have that’s only there to make you look good if you drop dead? 🙂
Further Reading: ⇒ Francisco de Quevedo ⇒ The Republic by Plato (on Project Gutenberg)