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01-10-2009

Books

Not content with reading one book at the time, Laurence Inman has four on the go.

Ever since I was very tiny I have been reading more than one book at a time.

People (teachers, classmates, close family, wives, children, policemen, colleagues, neighbours, friends, total strangers, Tony Blair) have accused me of doing this ‘just to look clever.’

I pooh-pooh such a suggestion with the mighty contempt it deserves.

If I had wanted to ‘look clever’ in the eyes of most of the fellow-humans who have rubbed up against me over the years, I would not have picked this particular habit as the most effective way of achieving it. At school, for instance, one only ‘looked clever’ by snatching somebody else’s book and throwing it on a passing bus.

I’ve tried various combinations of numbers and sorts of books. For the last twenty years or so I’ve settled on four: a novel, a play, the works of a single poet and a non-fiction. This suits me just fine and I never get bored.

The play is usually Shakespeare. He is inexhaustible. I like exploring the lesser works, because I know the big ones so well and it’s good to be reminded that even Bill had plenty of off-days. Try reading Pericles more than once at a sitting.

Which brings me to my current non-fiction: The Lodger Shakespeare by Charles Nicholl. ((Viking 2008)

This is one of the most interesting literary-historical books I’ve ever read.

In 1612 Shakespeare appeared as a witness in a court case. His landlord’s son-in-law had complained that he was owed money and Bill was summoned to say what he knew about the affair, which wasn’t much. From the documents of the case and painstaking research about the local area, Nicholls produces a fascinating picture of life in Jacobean London.

The first two acts of Pericles, incidentally, were written by George Wilkins, a pimp and brothel-keeper.

The last play I ingested, though, was not by the Bard.

Muriel Spark, during one of her unstable periods, was convinced that T S Eliot’s The Confidential Clerk was full of secret messages specifically directed at her. I’d never read it. His first three plays are very passable, and quite profound in places, although how they would present on stage nowadays is difficult to judge.

The Confidential Clerk is total shite.

My current poet is Kipling. I’m just going through the Collected in the Wordsworth edition.

My admiration for him grows all the time. The usual stock-responses to his stuff are all either misplaced or simply wrong. ‘Danny Deever’ is a poem of such technical perfection, dramatic sweep and emotional depth that I am excited by the mere thought of it. T S Eliot thought so to, something which the editor of this volume, a man of somewhat limited literary sensibility, can’t comprehend.

My novel-on-the-go is The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.

The Plot Against America

I’m taking this slowly; I don’t want it to end.

Roth imagines what would have happened (to his real family, friends and neighbourhood, as well as to the US and the whole world) if Charles Lindbergh had stood for president in 1940 and defeated Franklin Roosevelt.

Read this book now.

Fascism does not arrive with the force of a tsunami, destroying everything in minutes.

It is first apparent in the odd bit of damp under the wallpaper, the flaking of the plaster, the tiny drops seeping in under the door.

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