D is for:,  Desert Island books, Diaries,  Dickens,  Dictionaries, Dirty Books 

Desert Island books: Remember the old radio show Desert Island Discs? I think there was a book version too. The very idea of having to choose only one book to last me for who knows how many weeks? months? years ? (I mean, look at Robinson Crusoe!) fills me with angst. What to take? Something huge and voluminous (and probably dull) to last for ages? Like Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell, for instance (weighing in at 800+ pages), or The Museum of Innocence (728 pages), or maybe Shantaram (934 pages;at least they were entertaining pages, on the whole).Then there’s the Collected Works of Wm Shakespeare. No, I think not. Maybe an omnibus edition of a good crime writer?  But what do you do when you’ve read it once and know whodunnit?  Perhaps a bumper book of The Times Crosswords? No, no, I’ve got it: now’s the chance to tackle something you’ve always meant to do/wanted to do, and never found the time. So how about Teach yourself Mandarin?   Or Trigonometry for Beginners ?  AAArrgggh! It’s all too much. Time for a cold shower and a lie down.


Diaries:  Does anybody still keep a diary, I wonder?  Time was when everybody of any consequence was a diarist, ranging from Winston Churchill to Noel Coward. I have on my bookshelf The Assassin’s Cloak , edited by Irene & Alan Taylor, a fascinating day by day selection of entries from the famous & notorious. Entries for 1 January include the entries of Samuel Pepys, James Boswell, Sir Walter Scott, Adrian Mole (!),and  Katherine Mansfield who writes pettishly: what a vile little diary! But I am determined to keep it this year. We can all identify with Katherine M, I’m sure. I know nowadays people are journaling, blogging and tweeting the minutiae of their lives. But I do notice that the stationers and booksellers still offer diaries for sale, ranging from nice My Barbie pink diaries to solemn, leather-covered, devotional day by day diaries. Time will tell.

Dickens:  Hands up anybody who has read a Dickens novel that wasn’t a school set-book? Yes. I thought so. The only person voluntarily reading Dickens seems to be British novelist Nick Hornby, who admits to a passion for Dickens. I keep buying Dickens novels on charity book sales, because I’ve always meant  to read Nicholas Nickleby or Dombey & Son and duly influenced by Nick Hornby’s recommendations, I add the tomes to my To Be Read Pile. Where they remain. Luckily tucked away in a cupboard, so at least they are not gathering dust.

Dictionaries:  During a clear-out when elderly friends moved to a retirement home, I inherited their Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in two volumes. And mightily useful it has been. The onionskin paper, the dense, tiny black type, the cut-out alphabetic index heading up each section is exactly what a dictionary ought to be. I’m not comfortable with on-line dictionaries, crammed full of peculiar American spelling. As Churchill dryly observed “The English and the Americans have everything in common, barring the English language.”

Dirty Books :  No, not that sort of dirty book, although I must confess to discovering my father’s hidden copy of Peyton Place, and devouring the rude bits, which – in light of today’s fiction – was milk & cookies tame … but not for the early 50’s, it wasn’t. No, I mean books that are physically dirty. Like a recent library book: one of TV star, Dr Phil’s books, which was so dirty that after about 6 pages I closed it, and washed my hands with Dettol, picked the book up with my braai-tongs, popped it into a plastic bag and returned it to the Library, before I got infected with some awful disease –  cholera, or typhoid, or rabies, or something.  That library book had not only been thoroughly read, finger-licking page after page, but the plastic cover was sticky and grimy, the pages were creased with wear and tear, and stained and gritty. Ugghhh.


Filed under BOOK REVIEWS

5 responses to “ALPHABET SOUP

  1. Desert Island Discs is alive and well and on BBC Radio 4. At Christmas 2010, it celebrated its 70th anniversary. Not bad for a programme which was expected to last six weeks. You can find all the records requested along with all the books and luxuries at:

    Diaries? Yes, indeed I do keep one. Writing up my inconsequential activities wraps up the day. My parents kept diaries too. Keep a diary and it’ll keep you said Mae West.

    Dictionaries: for day to day, Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus on my phone. For sheer indulgence and because I’m heading off to India in the spring, Hobson-Jobson, The Anglo-Indian Dictionary compiled by Henry Yule and A C Burnett and published in 1886. Not only Indian words which have passed into the English language like bungalow, gymkhana, cheroot, etc. but words from Portugal, China, Persia, et al. Did you know, for instance, that Hong Kong means ‘fragrant waterway’?

    Dirty Books? A friend who grew up in the 50s had an uncle in the USA who sent him Dell and DC comics. His mother, convinced that they harboured germs, used to bake them in the oven for half an hour before he was allowed to read them.


    • Thanks so much for the input – had no ide4a D I D’s/& bks still on the go; will follow the link when I have a bit more time.
      Oven baked comics – now I’ve heard everything!
      Hobson-Jobson sounds delightful; when do you leave for India?


  2. Will be watching my post-box and hoping for an Indian postcard. Your reply reminds me I need to post my review of Shantaram; maybe next Sunday. Watch this space.


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