#53 In love with books – Harry Owen

April 13, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?

What is the matter, my Lord?

While everyone around me (including Shakespeare’s Polonius) seems to be crowing about the glories of Kindles, iPads and e-readers, here I am, the perennial luddite, huddled with my … what’s it called now? … oh yes, my Book (replete with paper pages, a dust jacket and a cover), deep in another world, not just of imagination (that goes without saying) but of touch, sound and savour too. It also has a title: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. Can you taste it? I can. Delicious.

Just yesterday I overheard someone extolling the virtues of his new iPad which, for regular travellers like him, provides the ultimate in compact reading – literally hundreds of volumes reproduced for his private delectation on every long-haul flight without any extra bulk or weight; and at home he can suffer as much insomnia as he wants to without disturbing his wife because now he is able to read until he falls asleep, again without having to switch on the light! What’s the matter with that? Surely nothing: it does indeed sound wonderful. But I won’t be buying one any time soon. Like any other holic – alco, choco or otherwise – I’m hopelessly addicted … Yes, hi, my name is Harry and I’m a biblioholic.

Most of my earliest memories are of reading: I’d read anything – Enid Blyton, Arthur Mee’s encyclopaedia, the Liverpool Echo, labels on HP Sauce bottles – but I remember with special affection my Glyn Carr period. I have no idea who Glyn Carr is (or was) except that he wrote a series of detective-style novels whose hero was a Shakespeare-quoting actor-manager from London’s theatreland with a passion for climbing mountains in the Snowdonia range of North Wales. This character, a wealthy and aristocratic creature who gloried, I seem to recall, in the magnificent designation of Sir Abercrombie Lewker, inevitably found that he had some heinous crime to solve and a murderous criminal to apprehend every time he returned to his beloved hills. Fabulous stuff – I was hooked, reading by the light of a torch long into the night with my book held reverentially beneath the sheets. But now I wonder what ever happened to Glyn Carr, or indeed to that young fellow who once read him with such unbridled enthusiasm.

So the bug was caught early and, like some benevolent virus, it could never be lost. Since then, of course, I haven’t stopped; reading for me has become one of life’s most profound and lasting pleasures.

I’ll mention just two very different books (or really two authors) that have affected my life significantly: Derek Tangye, whose warm-hearted series of autobiography called The Minack Chronicles persuaded me that dreaming is not necessarily ridiculous, despite what other, more “realistic”, individuals might say to the contrary. And the South African biologist and anthropologist Lyall Watson, whose fame began in the 1970s with the controversial Supernature, had a similar influence, especially with his investigatory travelogue called Gifts of Unknown Things. Both of these writers, although derided in some quarters, seemed to me to be open-minded, inquisitive risk-takers, and I loved that. I still do.

I read these works in the traditional, perhaps old-fashioned, way – as printed books. I do wonder whether their effects would have been quite the same had I encountered them on Kindle. Yes, probably so in the intellectual sense – but I can still feel those pages in my hand, still hear them turn, still smell them. Their flavour lingers in my mouth.

And poetry has always felt physical, tangible for me, despite the opinion of some who seem to think it ethereal and disembodied, touched with the muse, or spirit or something. Maya Angelou, Ted Hughes, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath: these are intensely grounded, physical poets and I encountered them through the intense and sensual intimacy of books.

But it seems to me that the truly important thing is that one way or another, whether via paper pages (books, newspapers, comics, magazines) or electronic screens (e-readers, cell phones, the internet or anything else), people should discover and share in the sheer joy of reading. I may be a luddite, but perhaps, despite the tongue-in-cheek poem I’ll share with you here, I’m not yet fully-fledged. Happy reading!

Screens

All we ever see is image:
retina with its retinue
of stand-on-their-heads gymnasts,
an upside down world of surface
and mirage reinterpreted.
Like it or not, we screen and are
screened from the outset. Cinemas,
cellphones, cctv, skype-hype,
internet and intercom, i-
sockets, i-balls, eye-pods, eye-pads
to measure, hide and camouflage
as only screens know how.
Stare then till ur x-i’d, till ur

screen-self n ur seen self r da same.

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