Thursday, November 20, 2014


favorite favorites?

The books on my bedside table remain the same, since last we spoke.  At least the authors do; the Patrick O'Brian novel at hand changes its title every few days, as I work my way through the entire Aubrey/Maturin series once more.  I don't feel the need to expound on plot points and timelines and history, as I read: instead I simply bask and let the prose flow by in waves.  So much happens, just as in life.  And yet, "...salt water washes all away..."  (The Commodore p.249); and besides, as Stephen Maturin himself said at one point, "...very highly detailed accounts of war at sea reduced him almost to tears after the first hour."  (ibid p.9).  Thankfully the case is not the same for this particular reader.  I remain enthralled. 

And I will mention that Maturin continues to exhibit all the signs of a classical eduction, one I am attempting to emulate this winter, albeit in a desultory minor way.  I suppose I have made a beginning already, having read the Iliad and the Odyssey some years back.  Maturin says,"'...never was such a book as the Iliad!'" (The Far Side of the World p.127), and my heart warmed even more when he mentioned reading De Consolatione Philosophiae by Boethius (ibid p.249). Then, at one point, he mentions in passing that he knows the Aeneid in its entirety, having learned it by rote as a child (The Wine-Dark Sea p.166).  I took his hint and brought a copy of the Aeneid home, from my own book booth.  Whenever I do finish the O'Brian series I will surely need something ancient and strong, as a sort of chaser.   I have the Robert Fitzgerald translation (Random House 1983), and the opening lines make my flesh creep (p.3):

"I sing of warfare and a man at war.
 From the sea-coast of Troy in early days
 He came to Italy by destiny,
 To our Lavinian western shore,
 A fugitive, this captain, buffeted
 Cruelly on land as on the sea
 By blows from powers of the air - behind them
 Baleful Juno in her sleepless rage,
 And cruel losses were his lot in war..."

Brrrr, how frighteningly wonderful.

Away from the bedside table, a few other books are waiting in the wings, not least among them Michael Palin's third volume, Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988-1998 (W&N 2014) which is being so polite and patient: Read me next, please and thank you.  And a few days ago I visited my bookseller friend Vicky at her lovely little bookshop, Front Porch Books, and came away with Electric Delights, a book of essays and occasional pieces by William Plomer (Godine 1978), and My Ideal Bookshelf, a collection of gorgeous paintings of book spines by Jane Mount, accompanied by mini-essays by all sorts of amazing people (Maira Kalman! Dave Eggers! Jonathan Lethem! Patti Smith!) about their quirky influential favorite books, edited by Thessaly La Force (Little, Brown 2012).  I saw this elsewhere when it was first published and was so happy to find a secondhand copy.  The opening lines of the preface are tantalizing (p.xi):

"The assignment sounds straightforward enough.  Select a small shelf of books that represent you - the books that have changed your life, that have made you who you are today, your favorite favorites."

That might be a good topic for another day.  I suspect I would have trouble picking only a handful (you think?).  Meanwhile I will enjoy reading 200+ pages about other people's favorite books. And the paintings are so very pleasing, I have to say.  After more than 25 years in or around the book trade I recognize so many of the specific editions she paints (like this entire shelf of poetry), and it's neat to see the books themselves in this new way, yet have them feel so familiar at the same time.  I will consider what my own shelf might hold, and report back here soon.  I mean, I can think of several right off the top of my head.  But, a tricky question immediately arises - may I count the Patrick O'Brian series as one book...?

Yesterday evening I completed a book bought some 8 years ago (from a cozy Xmas-like bookshop in Thessaloniki).

Alberto Manguel's A Reading Diary. Tender.
I put it on the bookies shelf, between CHRONICLES OF BARRABBAS (Doran) and THE LONDON BOOKSHOPS. Nice company.

Sarah, you -as a painter- should offer to us "A bookshelf of Morley".
After all it's Christmas Season.
Dear Antony - all three of those books are also on my own bookshelves... adjacent to Morley of course. Sadly, I tried to paint a bookcase full of books once and the painting fell flat. But that was years ago - perhaps I should try again? I don't think that anything I could do would come close to the charm of Jane Mount's paintings, however!
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