Monday, 18 June 2012

Head in a book

There are so many books waiting to be read, and I cannot keep up with them. Not that this stops me from buying them. I remember reading Aldous Huxley's Brave New World when I was a student, just out of school. All the little babies growing in their test tubes were being brainwashed in order to fit them into the appropriate class categories, and I remember thinking that in some ways it would be rather nice, and efficient, if the contents of books could be thus absorbed into our conscious memories. Of course, this never worked, but it seems to me that there is a residual conviction that if they sit on the shelves for long enough, the contents of the books will somehow leach into my mind.

Many are the books I have started, but far fewer are those I have finished, and as to how much remains in the memory, who can say? It is some comfort to know that if some subject comes to mind, about which I need or want to know more, that there are many books on my shelves I can use to check facts, refresh my memory, and to learn more. One book leads to another, of course....I always do want to know more.

At present I am having a bit of a binge on the novels of David Lodge. I have read his books since I was a young student, and have enjoyed them all, some much more than others. The one I started with was The British Museum is Falling Down, about a young couple, who had three children in rapid succession, while the husband/father was trying to complete his PhD.  Because of the ferment about whether contraceptives, in particular oral contraceptives, could be used in good faith by practising Catholics,  this was of great interest to me, as a young engaged woman. I was too ill-read to realise that Lodge wrote much of the book parodying various literary styles, and authors. And I still have not read Ulysses.

At present I am half way through A Man of Parts, about H G Wells. I knew a bit, but not much, about Wells, and I must say how much I am enjoying this book. I am somewhat more educated now, albeit with vast gaps in my knowledge and reading, and find the intellectual ferment of the early 20th century fascinating.  A Man of Parts is a most congenial book, and I don't recollect ever categorising a book in this way before. It makes me smile, it makes me more curious, and avid to know more. It entices me, it draws me in. I am learning quite a lot, and linkages between my knowledge and understanding are being formed, and I just love it. It reads so easily.  Lodge's erudition, writing and style are quite superb.

As I read I leap from subject to subject, from book to book, to look up this or that, or to read some other relevant subject. I am up to about page 400, and find I am forgetting things from the first part of the book, so that I need to flick back and forth.

Lodge writes about H G Wells' friendship with the Blands, and Mrs Bland turns out to be E Nesbit. I had never read any of her books, even though I like and re-read lots of juvenile literature, but I was drawn into and transfixed by Lodge's account of Wells reading her books. Last week I went to the bookshop and bought the couple of novels by Lodge which had somehow avoided my buying and reading - they are sitting panting on my coffee table while I hasten to get through all the other books and start on them. But I did buy E Nesbit's The Railway Children and have zipped through that, and thoroughly enjoyed it - a most enticing read it was too.

Here I pause to nip down to the kitchen to check on whether the evening meal is cooked, overcooked or burned....Not burned, phew.

I am up to the part where H G begins an affair with Elizabeth von Arnim (who was born in Australia but lived here for only three years, and who later married Bertrand Russell's brother). H G had a very active sex life and an exceedingly tolerant wife. He seems to have written his books with the speed of light. Perhaps I will get around to reading The War between the Worlds and The Time Machine, but in the meantime there are so many books and so little time. And I have another two David Lodge novels to read once I finish A Man of Parts. What a wonderful title it is, and so perfectly apt.


Pam said...

Oh, you need to read "Five Children and It" and her other magic books. I adored them when I was a child!

Gina E. said...

You haven't read The Time Machine?? Shock, horror! I thought that was one of those books that EVERYBODY of a certain age has read. I hasten to add, it is much better than the film. Either of them.

Unknown said...

I go on various literary binges. Maybe it is having a mother who teaches English, but it never occurred to me not to finish a book once I started reading. I am in the middle of a SciFi short story anthology binge. I am almost finished with Four Ways to Forgiveness, by Ursula LeGuin.

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