This week our columnist is losing a bathroom while gaining a library.
Sometime this year, I shall be losing a bathroom, but gaining a library. Rather in the manner of parents who console themselves ahead of a wedding by saying they’re not losing a daughter (or son), but gaining a son (or daughter).
The plan is to rip out the fittings in the toilet attached to my study, put up shelves, remove the door, convert the frame into a more pleasing arch and clear up floor space, table space, chair space and overcrowded shelf space around the house. It will mean even more questions along the lines of “Gosh! Have you read all your books?”
My normal reaction to the question is a pitying look accompanied by an expression that says, “How illiterate of you to ask such a question,” and a gentle grunt that could mean anything from, “Ha ha!” to, “What makes you think I buy books to read them?” Or I borrow from Anatole France and respond to the philistine thus, “I haven’t read one-tenth of them. I don’t suppose you use your Sevres china every day?”
Last year I had an idea for a book: I would go through my shelves, pick out books I hadn’t read yet and write about finally catching up on my reading. Perhaps I wouldn’t buy another book until I had read every one of those I already owned. I quickly dropped the idea, however. Suppose I had 520 unread books, and read them at the rate of two every week, it would take me five years to go through the lot. Neither practical nor desirable.
In the (distant) future, when my hair falls out, teeth follow suit and memory goes west, I can give away all my books, keeping just one volume – Anna
Karenina, for example, or something by Dickens. I would need only one book,
Perhaps I wouldn’t buy another book until I had read every one of those I already owned?
because by the time I came to the end, I would have forgotten everything I read, and could start the same book again afresh.
Maybe I won’t even need a classic. Somewhere at home is a slim children’s book (not a book for slim children… you know what I mean). I can’t remember the name, but there is a mark on page 38, a reminder of my then infant son’s oral reaction to food. It is as evocative as any of the photographs taken of him at that stage. Like Proust’s Madeleine, it is a gateway to a flood of memories.
Meanwhile, I sit and wonder why I have a book entitled The Complete
Works of Jason Crick or How to Build a Hospital in 30 Easy Steps.
Maybe it is not a new library I need so much as a larger rubbish bin.