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.