Monday, March 07, 2005


A knock at the door downstairs. Four knocks to be precise. How I know it was four when the noise made me rise off my seat in fright, I don't know. A friend? No, a delivery. Books. And before the eager cutting of cellophane, trying to remind myself what I have bought and forgot about, there comes into my mind:

"These won't be read , they'll go on the shelf to be referred to from time to time."

Once the package was open my theory proved correct. Weakening a week or two before, I had ordered the three volume: A History of Language, Writing, and Reading by Steven Roger Fischer, without recommendation.

My habit with a new book is to flick through it from end to beginning then sample the index to confirm or deny if I have wasted my money. I am an index man, having created a few myself, though none, I suspect, appreciated.

The next most important thing for quick assessment of a non-fiction book is the bibliography, evidement. All three have reasonably long ones. The guilt at spending on books which I am not going to read immediately subsides. My mind moves to other things.

Back to be precise. In particular to the recording I made last night of part 4 of the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of A la Researche de Temp Perdu starring amongst others Corin Redgrave.

As the knock came to the door I had just begun replaying the Proust tape, resolving, as I recognised in the beginning section the whole technique Proust employed displayed there in a nutshell, to transcribe the beginning for a post.

You wake in the silence. A moment. Who are you? For a moment you don't know. For a moment. Until memory. Your bedroom in your parent's apartment in Paris. Ring for the maid, Francoise. The bell reminds you of another bell. It's the one on the garden gate at your great auntie Leonie in the Combray house. This bell still rings in your ears, though it happened in the remote past, your childhood. You're terrified. You realise this bell has alway been inside you. These moments are your life. You feel giddy as if you are looking down from a height of the long series of the years, not separated from you, inside you.

"Your hot milk."

"Ooh, Francoise."

"Some air in here wouldn't go amiss."

"Mmm....Francoise, what sort of a day is it?"

"Its a day. All you need to know."

What to do? An invitation to the party of a Prince's this evening. Its silver writing on the creamy card against the mirror. And though the bright charms society people once held for you seem to be tarnishing, you'll go. She's a princes after all. And between then and now? You'll start your novel. That's what you'll do. Its only a matter of will-power.


It's the Baron Charlus' voice in the courtyard outside your bedroom. And Joupien. You go to the window, some instinct draws you.

"Perhaps you need to sit down for a bit?"

"Did I see you once in Zurich?"

Portly Charlus tilts his body.

"Zurich. I've never been there."

"Do have a light? Want a cigar?"

You are waiting for something you suspect is going to happen.

"Im afraid I've left my cigars at home."

"Oh, well, why don't you pop into my shop then?"

Now the tailor places his hand on his hip. Sticks out his behind. Poses like a cocquet[te].

"You can get everything you want there."

Or like some orchid in front of the providental arrival of a....

Another knock at my door. It is rare for two close calls. The book man has been. Who could this be? My mind must be replaying all the visitors I have had with four firm knocks, and is busily setting them out in order so that I may take my choice.

When I open the door, it is someone I have never seen before....



"Can I give you one of these catalogues?"

I know I will accept it though I ought to be strong enough to say no. The end result will be another visit.

Returning upstairs to the three books, I remember, before going to the door, I felt only one, The History of Reading, would be worth reading straight away. Having to buy all three had made the guilt in the first place. Within a short space ot time, flicking and reflicking all three, I see it is true: The History of Reading will be my next read: a quote at the top of Chapter 1 is too enticing:

"Be a scribe! Engrave this in your heart
So that your name might live on like theirs!
The scroll is better than the carved stone.
A man has died: his corpse is dust,
And his people have passed from the land.
It is a book which makes him remembered
In the mouth of the speaker who reads him."

[Egyptian scribe about 1300 BC]


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