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Laurence Inman’s Blog

CHARITY BEGINS…AT THE BOOKSHOP

11-12-208

Books

Laurence Inman ponders all those books he’ll never read. He also has a delightful metaphor about knitting fog.

August 2nd 1975 was an ordinary day, for me and for millions of others. I drove from my home in Leicestershire to Birmingham.

I did this for only one purpose: I wanted to go to Hudson’s bookshop to buy a specific book. I couldn’t buy it in Leicester because there were no good bookshops there. According to my diary it was a scorchingly hot day.

I bought the book. I took my parents and grandmother out to some pub in the country, which I didn’t like much, but which they thought was all right. Then I drove home in my blue Mini, with the book.

It was Clancy by Frederick Mullally.

I wanted it because it had been serialised on the telly earlier that summer. I think Robert Powell played the lead. The book took its place on my shelves, was transported from one address to another, taking its place on other shelves, for the next thirty-three years, until last week, when I took it, unread and probably unopened, to Oxfam in Kings Heath High Street and gave it away.

It isn’t the only book I’ve given away to charity shops in the last few weeks. There have been dozens. I never thought I would be able to do it, but once I started clearing the piles of the never-read, hardly-read and couldn’t-understand-why-I-bought-the-bloody-things-in-the-first-place, I quite began to enjoy myself.

There have been two rules:

1. Have I ever read, or even thought of reading, this book?

2. Would I buy it if I saw it in a shop now?

Superpig, by William Rushton, a book of letters from Kenneth Allsop to his daughter, a ‘satirical’ account of society by David Frost (c 1968) and A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth all failed the test.

The dull, the useless, the out-of-date, the falling-apart, the dusty and forgotten – they added up to literally hundreds. Now they’re gone, and I feel cleansed.

Why have I still got so many ? What are they for ? Simply to furnish rooms, probably. To say to people who may visit: Look, I’m a cultured and well-read person. There can certainly be no other reason for keeping the complete works of Henry James weighing down my floorboards and my life for the past four decades.

I bought ten of them in Portobello Road market in 1969 – Heron editions! – and I’ve never read a word of them! I hate Henry James! Reading his stuff is like trying to knit fog.

I’m fifty-eight. At the most, I’ll have another fifty years to read all this rubbish that’s littering up my life. But, as I’ve intimated before, I forget every word as soon as I’ve finished page the last and shoved it back in the heap. So what is the point ? Can somebody please tell me ? What can have got into me all those years ago to convince me that Literature could improve my life?

Having said that, I discovered a real, honest and beautiful novel last month. Amongst Women by John McGahern. It’s the one in a thousand that makes reading worthwhile.

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