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Monday, 7 May 2007

Bedside books

Inspired by this post by Sarah Crown on the UK Guardian books blog (I'm always happy to borrow a fun idea), and in a spirit of heatstruck Monday afternoon idleness, I thought I might make a brief foray into biblio-biography by sharing with you, dear readers, the current contents of my bedside book pile. (For if inspecting someone's bookshelves offers insights into character, imagine what intimacies might be revealed by a bedside table.)

A few preliminary notes. First, my bedside table is just one of several staging-areas in my ongoing battle against physical immersion in books (and magazines, notebooks, papers, etc). That a book has ended up on my bedside table doesn't always mean I intend to read it anytime soon. A kind of archaeological analysis is required. Books near the top of the pile, the "active" zone, are likely in current use. Descending to the middle "dormant" zone, we find books that have been abandoned, books that were given to me as presents and optimistically placed in the pile, books I was referring to for some specific project in the past and that I neglected to re-shelve. Below these, in what might be called the "deadweight" zone, are those books that, due to a combination of neglect and physical mass, have sunk to the very bottom and now function as a kind of foundation for the entire pile.

Complicating this whole sequence is the fact that I often take armloads of new CRB review copies to bed with me, where I can go through them in my preferred horizontal reading position, deciding which ones will be despatched to reviewers and which will not. Another complication: I have two bedside book piles. Closest to hand are the books on my actual bedside table--a rickety little blue-painted piece of furniture that I made myself some years ago, during a short but heady fling with carpentry. A couple of feet away, on a little green bench just under the window, is a larger pile of books. This is where CRB review copies usually find themselves, along with magazines I've finished reading but not decided whether to throw away or file, and books that are theoretically in use for some ongoing writing project.

Here, anyway, is the census--make of it what you will.

On the small blue bedside table, beside my alarm clock; starting at the top of the pile and working down:

- The Mimic Men (Naipaul), which I'm currently re-reading
- two Moleskine notebooks (forget about the Chatwin thing, they really are the best); one of them my "left hand, right hand" daily notebook, the other a journal of my recent trip to Venezuela
- a photocopy of Jane Kramer's "Letter from Guyana", published in the New Yorker in 1974, kindly sent me by a colleague
- Caribbean Creolisation: Reflections on the Cultural Dynamics of Language, Literature, and Identity, ed. Kathleen M. Balutansky and Marie-Agn├Ęs Sourieu--contains an essay by Wilson Harris I was trying to read
- a bunch of semi-read New Yorkers--they arrive in batches of six or seven, for some reason, which makes it impossible to read any one issue properly
- The Adventures of Gurudeva and Finding the Centre--I've been re-reading a lot of Naipaul lately
- Migration: New and Selected Poems by W.S. Merwin--a disappointing book that I should really shelve
- Shakespeare's Kitchen, by Lore Segal--a novel given to me by a good friend who works for the publisher. I'll read it one of these days
- Chinese Lanterns from the Blue Child, by Anthony McNeill--a book I'd "lost" and I'm glad to have uncovered near the bottom of this pile
- The End of the Poem, by Paul Muldoon

On the green bench under the window:

- The Girl with the Golden Shoes, by Colin Channer, which I read last Saturday
- A.A. Gill Is Away, a book of travel pieces, entertaining singly, annoying cumulatively
- Robert Schomburgk's Guiana Travels, vol. 1--the new Hakluyt Society edition
- An Eye for the Tropics, by Krista Thompson, an intriguing and lively new book by a brilliant young Bahamian art historian
- a Latin American Spanish phrasebook
- the 1973 Oxford edition of Charles Waterton's Wanderings in South America
- Walcott's new Selected Poems, ed. Edward Baugh
- A Life in Guyana, vol. 1, by Vincent Roth
- Gordon Rohlehr's book of essays My Strangled City, which I've been re-reading recently
- the April 2007 issue of the Trinidad and Tobago Review, full of tributes to Lloyd Best
- a foot-high pile of magazines of every sort, mostly issues of the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, and New Yorker

Clearly some re-shelving is required....

Perhaps I'll ask a few regular CRB contributors to describe their own bedside book piles over the coming days--and, dear readers, why not use the comments below to tell us what you've got stacked up beside your pillows?

1 comment:

Andre Bagoo said...

First we must understand the space. There is the small bed-side table to my right. On this table, a lamp competes for space with two piles of books. This is my "active zone" as described by Nicholas. But I would add that the “active zone” it itself comprised of sub-zones: (a) really active- as in I read you last night (b) moderately active- as in I was reading you in a huff and puff last week but now I don’t even remember the plot (c) dormantly active- as in I owe the library money for this one, but do not have the heart to return it.

THE ACTIVE ZONE (‘really’, ‘moderately’ and ‘dormantly’ active inclusive):

1. Deliverance by James Dickey. I love the movie so am sampling the book.
2. The Mystic Masseur/Miguel Street by VS Naipaul. An omnibus edition I bought the other day in the ‘return of Naipaul’ vogue that lasted three weeks last month.
3. A Way in the World by VS Naipaul. Beguiling.
4. The Hummingbird Tree by Ian Mc Donald. What’s all the fuss about obscene language?
5. The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Frazen. I should have bought The Corrections.
6. Selected Poems by Derek Walcott. I normally open this book and turn to one poem in particular that really made me understand what a poem ‘is’ when I was in secondary school. I always read that poem, and then close the book. It’s enough for me!
7. Mao by Judy Chung. Magnificent biography, only flawed by a slight lack of restraint in its attempt to de-bunk the myth of Mao. Still, that lack of restraint reads as passion.
8. Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. Overdue.
9. Moby Dick. Currently my favourite read. But it fell down the other day.


On the shelf behind my bed-head. An assortment of “semi-active” and “dead” books including: Aelred’s Sin by Lawrence Scott (randy, but needlessly long); Jude the Obscure (never finished since secondary school); Dusklands by JM Coetzee (wonderful! Deserves a place in the active zone); Inward Hunger by Eric Williams (I think Dr Williams was very strange); three moleskins filled with bad poetry and some good ideas; Macbeth, Richard III (William is always reliable); The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield (goes on and on- but I like it, really); Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (is he really ‘Britain’s best author’?); The Berggruen Collection (a souvenir from my trip to a rather fine gallery in Berlin last year, good for inspiration); The Perfect Hamburger by Alexander McCall Smith (my nephew was in my room again!)