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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 26 - A book-lover in des res realms of literary diamonds and dross

IF YOU visit the desirable residence of Albert Morris you might find him dipping into Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, or, for light relief, reading highlights from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, the references to the theory of surplus value being especially gripping, although perhaps somewhat too sensational for unprepared minds.

So the long, literary day would go on in a household propped up by books which, if any are written without fear, talent or research, are sometimes used to keep a door ajar or restore the balance of a unevenly-legged chair.

From the time when I lisped the opening sentence of a crisply-crafted tale which went, "The cat sat on the mat", I have been a book-lover. I not only collect books; but books also collect me so that I can enter bookshops, resolving not to buy, only browse, find myself seduced by some story’s siren song and end up with the work which I promise myself I will read when I have finished the five other books that I am reading in strict rotation.

I have around 4,000 books, on shelves, display cabinets, cupboards and boxes in the loft, all carefully computer-catalogued. A sample entry is: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (abridged) - top shelf, front bedroom wardrobe, under hill-walking jersey. Storage space is at a premium and if the stock quantity threatens to equal that of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, a judicious house extension could be planned.

I sometimes visit houses apparently devoid of books except telephone directories and electronic gadget operating manuals that are, in my bookworm’s eye view, cultural deserts, their inhabitants lost in a limbo of television, video and computers and who, like those with no music in their souls, are fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.

Books, to me, are meat and drink, life blood and intellectual oxygen. No book scrolled on an eye-straining computer screen will, in my valuable opinion, ever replace the look, feel and even the smell of a book.

Much have I travelled in the realms of literary diamonds and dross, from Grimm’s fairy tales that prepared me for the warts-and-all aspects of adult life, the William books that could be regarded as hilarious manuals on how to behave as a boy, the Biggles’ series that taught me to regard most foreigners and so-called lesser breeds without the law with unswerving, and thoroughly justified, suspicion, the John Buchan books that indicated the perils and perks of imperial life, and the works of Kip-ling that took up the white man’s reading burden from Birr to Bareilly, from Leeds to Lahore.

I have struggled up the rarefied philosophical mountain ranges, peaking - as one does - at Plato, and trekked through the sweaty, badlands of knuckleduster novels like No Mortgage on a Coffin. I have nodded over Homer, read the delicate ivory carvings of Jane Austen and trodden the paginal paths of millions from Dickens to Dostoevsky, Thackeray to Trollope Gorky to Gide; the mind, you could say, Gogols.

I have read volumes, insanely highly-priced and destined to go straight from warehouse to retail remaindered sections, some books, which for no other reason than sheer bulk had to be taken seriously and big, fat paperbacks intended to while away a few monsoons, which, if flung in accurate trajectory, could bring a water buffalo its knees.

Despite that literary baggage, I would be nonplussed if asked to contribute to BBC2’s programme, The Big Read, which, forming part of the channel’s £100 million winter schedule, will invite viewers to vote for their favourite book, thus doing for literature what BBC2 risibly did for history in the series, Great Britons.

Among my favourites are PG Wodehouse’s novels, George Orwell’s essays, Kenneth Grahame’s, The Wind in the Willows, and that shaggy bear of a book, Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

My top favourite is my own creation - a so-called commonplace book. The poet, WH Auden created one and Dean Swift, poet, satirist and clergyman, called his a "supplemental memory". Mine not only includes prose and poetry extracts, newspaper cuttings, pithy observations but also humorous extracts from Neville Chamberlain’s and Arthur Scargill’s speeches and a host of other good things.

The world is not yet ready for it so does not know what it is missing, especially on page 352 - "The Wit and Wisdom of Wittgenstein": sheer book-lover’s bliss.

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