#63 In love with books – Michiel Heyns

April 20, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?
What made me fall in love with books? I think I was looking for something to fall in love with, and books were the most available objects of desire. I spent my afternoons in the library, first in Kimberley and then in Grahamstown, oases of vicarious experience in two fairly featureless cities (and I was lucky, in that both cities, thanks to their colonial past, had excellent libraries – not just shelves with books, but reading rooms with leather armchairs and fireplaces). I pride myself on having discovered James Bond in the Kimberley library before everyone was reading him; on discovering for myself The Catcher in the Rye in the Grahamstown library before I knew it was a cult classic; and on somewhat precociously stumbling upon Tennessee Williams in the drama shelves after I’d exhausted, or so I thought, the fiction shelves. I suspect I may be one of the few readers who enjoyed Enid Blyton and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the same time. Between the two of them they have a lot to answer for.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

Chaucer three times uses the line “Pitee renneth soone in gentil herte”, with varying degrees of irony. Gentil here means “noble”, and would in the first place have referred to the kind of conduct expected (not always successfully) from noble men and women. It may have been wishful thinking: given the power that noblemen had in the Middle Ages, pity was the only check on the wholesale carnage they were capable of. Nowadays, the line would just mean that soft-hearted people are easily inclined to pity; a bit more self-evidently true than in Chaucer’s day.

For compactness I have not come across anything to rival this line from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, at the conclusion of the Battle of Waterloo: “Darkness came down on the field and the city; and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.”

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