Uncle Phil's Books
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Uncle Phil's Anecdotes
A snapper-up of Unconsidered Trifles
I cant begin to tell you tell you how relieved I am. Its as if a lifetimes burden has been lifted from my aching shoulders by an uncharacteristically benevolent angel. Its as if several billion prime brain cells have been released from decades of worry duty and can be recycled into concerning themselves with things pleasant, like sex, or food, or Lesley Garrett; or can be sent as cannon fodder up to the front line next time I go on a bender. Its as if my personal Road to Damascus has instantaneously sprouted high-tech twenty-first century halogen street-lighting.
But maybe Id better explain.
For many years now, Ive kept a Commonplace Book. Well maybe book is slightly too precise a term what I have is a hotchpotch of ill-assorted bits of paper, scrawled with notes and filed all over the place; yellowing photcopies; articles excised from newspapers and mags; several scruffy notebooks that contain not only literary nuggets, but everything from recipes to out-of-date phone numbers for people I cant remember ever having met, to details of the days take, such as it was, for an Antique Fair I did in Builth Wells in 1983; a library full of books with grubby, crumpled, fading Post-it notes doing duty as bookmarks; and a vague but rapidly deteriorating idea as to where I can lay my hands on some juicy morsel of literary merit that first tickled my fancy in 1954 or thereabouts.
So a couple of weeks ago I decided that the time had come for a major rationalisation programme. Id enter the whole bang shoot onto my computer, neatly filed, referenced and cross-indexed. Tidiness is all.
A major task, this, but Im getting there. Another six months should do it. No sweat, apart from a minor case of keyboard wrist and a strong possibility of terminal eyestrain. Im even learning to read my own handwriting, a skill which has defeated me since I was five years old. And O the joy of re-discovering little gems that havent seen the light of day since I first read them in my teens, and have been airily misquoting from memory ever since.
But it wasnt until I came across (after a good twenty years lying fallow at the bottom of a cardboard box) a parody of Pride and Prejudice written in the style of Dylan Thomas (by a comic genius called Stanley Sharpless), that it hit me. Bingo!
Im never, ever, ever again going to have to force myself to attempt Jane Austen!
I have her Complete Works lurking on my bookshelf. Well, you do, dont you. Theyve been there for years, glowering guilt at me from every virgin spine. And every so often, in a flush of misguided virtue, Ive taken down P&P (I always start with P&P, for some reason) and tried to sneak into it. I can quote you the first paragraph off by heart, but I dont think Ive ever got past the second page. Because frankly, the woman is plain bloody boring. Its her prissy, decaffeinated, anaemic style that induces chronic ennui, not the stories per se, which arent bad - after all, they work beautifully on television or on film but by God its dull stuff to read. And having managed without for sixty years, I suddenly realised that I dont need to make the attempt any more. Yippeeee!
But it gets better, because of course the tedium quotient doesnt only apply to St Jane. Shes just the tip of the wossname. For starters, I can dump dismal Dickens, piecemeal. Another example of the camera being mightier than the pen. If I feel a Dickens coming on Ill rent a video of Oliver at least the tunes are good. I can bin a busload of boring bloody Brontes. I can slap Not Wanted on Voyage labels onto all twelve turgid volumes of Gibbons so-called masterpiece. I can consign Carlyle to deserved oblivion. I can trash great screeds of Milton any good book of quotations will serve to supply a compilation album of the best bits Milts Greatest Hits, as it were. I can leave Bunyans Pilgrim to Progress unaided and, by me at least, unread. I can forswear Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Sir Walter-Scott-Fitzgerald, all those interminable Russian novels where everybody has at least three different sets of names and you have to draw up a genealogical flowchart as you go along so as to remember whos doing what to whom, and why. I can quit trying to struggle through Garcia Lorca. Or Ibsen. Or Goethe. I can pare five centuries of French soi-disant literature down to Candide and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. And no Im not forgetting Proust. You can stuff Proust. Il pouvait ennuyer pour La France.
I can even (O Heresy ! O Blasphemy !) conveniently forget my self-imposed annual dose of The Faerie Queene.
It was Arnold Bennett who said something to the effect that A list of the masterpieces I have never read would fill a volume. Arnie-boy Im right in there with you. There are hundreds of worthy books that Ive always felt I ought to read; some Ive tried and failed miserably, some Ive never got round to, and some Ive never been able to face.
And Ive just decided that Im never going to bother. Im only going to read what interests me, and the dickens take the rest. Now where did I put the latest Tom Clancy?
Aint Freedom wonderful!
© Phil James
©Uncle Phil's Books 2004