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
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
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
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
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.