Friday, March 23, 2012
'Little Donny's Bedside Book' - the Don does a little self promotion
I recently published 'Little Donny's Bedside Book' as an Amazon.com e-book for Kindle and other tablets and computers. It's a collection of short writings I've done over the years, most of them published in newspapers and magazines.
This is one of them - all about boooks and my life with books:
A BOOKISH DON
I don’t know whether the books hold the walls up or vice versa but I fear that if I took them all away the house would collapse.
It’s always been that way. I’ve had a weakness bordering on obsession about books since I was a spotty London schoolboy in torn grey flannel shorts, telescoped socks, tortured collar, stained school tie, and shoes whose toe caps were more familiar with empty cans than Nugget.
I spent my boyhood reading. It used to drive my mother nuts. She would search all over the house for me then find me reclining on the sofa in the ‘front room’ devouring the latest Arthur Ransome and chewing my fingernails down to the elbows (I guess I needed the calcium). Why she didn’t look there in the first place always puzzled me. I think she couldn’t believe my repeated violations of the sanctity of that tiny, peaceful retreat which smelled of wax polish and whose air sparkled with motes drifting in the beams of late sunlight.
When she found me she would tut and warn me ‘If you spend all your time reading you’ll lose the use of your eyes!’
The front room was a sort of sanctum sanctorum kept for Christmas and visitors. As none ever came it was officially used only once a year so if I hadn’t crept into its silence it would have been shut up and musty like Tutankhamen’s tomb. And if I hadn’t regularly disturbed the ancient dust my mother would not have needed to do any housework: that, I suspect, would have left her with a sense of unfulfilment. I don’t know that she had anything to complain about because she, too, was an avid reader. Indeed, one of my earliest memories, from before I could read, is of lying in bed beside her and dad on a Sunday morning fascinated by the rivers of space between the words running down the printed pages of her book.
In the early days all my reading was of books from the public library. It was wartime and they were more often than not dog-eared, stained, bound and re-bound volumes with racked spines, their spreads often crumbed with residual toast or corn flake grit. Countless unwashed fingers might have softened their pages to a warm, comfortable texture like flannelette sheets but that was of no consequence; it was the magic of their contents that mattered.
In the front room I met Ben Gunn and Long John Silver; I joined Biggles in his cockpit as we played chicken with some enemy air ace, flying directly towards each other at a combined speed of 300 miles an hour; I partook, vicariously, in endless explorations and campaigns with the heroes of G.A. Henty, travelled twenty thousand submarine leagues with Jules Verne and sailed the romantic waters of the Lake District with John, Susan, Titty, Roger, Nancy and Peggy in 'Swallows and Amazons'.
Later, I started to buy rather than borrow and moved on to more serious stuff. (I needed to, I left school when I was fifteen woefully under educated and if I hadn’t developed a lust for reading I guess my intellect would have withered on the vine). I suppose the big change from children’s to adults’ books is the appearance of sex in some form or another. These days nothing is left to the imagination but then - in the forties - the introduction to the subject came by way of romantic love.
I think John Buchan started it for me; his heroes were all good sporting men who smoked pipes (and must have reeked) and invariably won some lithe, young, boyish! woman with tossing golden curls: but they never got much beyond holding hands. Nevertheless it was enough to trigger the purchase of instructive volumes such as Havelock Ellis’s 'The Psychology of Sex' which I kept hidden behind the hot water cylinder in my bedroom. I’ve still got the book and can report that the hottest thing in that cupboard was the hot water cylinder! It was around then that the famous Kinsey Reports were published. I never read them but relaxed in the knowledge that they, like any good work of reference, were accessible if needed.
Kinsey pierced a hole in the post-Victorian wall of silence and it was a short step from there to the substantial freedoms of publication that followed. I remember the enormous victory, that great stride into national adulthood, that was achieved when 'Lady Chatterley’s Lover' was at last allowed to be published without restriction. Everybody hungered to read it and many were titillated by the shenanigans of the gamekeeper and her ladyship while completely overlooking the artistry of D.H.Lawrence’s prose. It’s a measure of how much we’ve grown up that if we read that book today the sex is tame and leaves us wondering what the fuss was all about. It pales beside what we see on television on Sunday evenings!
The final stage of my bookish obsession was to become a collector. I’ve never thrown a book away and so, in that sense, have collected. But there’s a deeper meaning to ‘collector’. It means having something rare or special and prized. To the reading of a book it adds values like the feel of a beautiful binding or the triumph of having acquired something desirable at a fraction of its value - not that you’ll ever sell it!
A business acquaintance came to dinner once and after looking around the walls of the sitting room asked ‘Why do you have all these books?’ Puzzled, I could only then say ‘Why do you ask?’, I couldn’t imagine a house without them. If I were asked the same question now I would say ‘I read them. I refer to them. I love them and I glory in them.’ Then I would show him Henry Williamson’s 'Tarka the Otter' and say, ‘Read that’. I would hand him 'Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable' and say, ‘Refer to that’. I would pull out T.E.Lawrence’s 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' - the limited first public edition with those four enchanting colour plates - and say, ‘Love that’, and I would show him the modest little first edition of Dylan Thomas’s 'Under Milk Wood' that I bought for $4.50 in Browns Bay and that was recently offered for $600.00 in a catalogue and say, ‘Glory in that!’
Between the ages of, say, twenty-five and now my library has expanded to become, as I have said, part of the structure of the house. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to sit in the gloaming of a winter’s evening and see the gold leaf of naked spines wink at me in reflected firelight. I find enormous comfort in these old friends - some cheap and hard worn, some valuable - as they stand, shoulder to shoulder around the room ready to give me companionship, knowledge and escape whenever I need them.
And I think they gave the same support and joy to my children and grandchildren as they grew up for, I know, they read more than the average of their peers.
And although I might be swimming against the tide, I’d still rather read a book (even an e-book) than watch anything on television.
Perhaps that’s because we didn’t have a telly in the ‘front room’ when I was a boy.
Don Donovan. Writer & Illustrator.
Box 300136, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand 0752.
Telephone (64)(9)4159 701.Fax(64)(9)4158 914. Mobile 0273835598 (Address but not for mail: 615 Dairy Flat Highway, RD2 Albany 0792) <http://don-donovan.blogspot.com>
My e-books 'The Wastings' and 'Second Bite' are available for $US9.90, and 'Little Donny's Bedside Book' for $US2.99, from Amazon.com for tablet and Kindle readers.