ongoing

I’ve so enjoyed reading your comments on the last post – that kind of spontaneous and interesting discussion is one of the reasons why I am so very fond of the interwebz. Thankyou. You have made me question my half-baked anglocentric thoughts about that poem, and inspired me to brush up my German. I was particularly intrigued by the different cultural connotations of a planted ‘avenue,’ and was very struck by Stella’s marvelous rendering of ‘treiben’ into a ‘conspiracy of leaves’. Séverine was wondering why I mentioned Rilke in the first place: well, I suppose that he is one of those poets who, like Arthur Clough, or John Ashberry, I have always enjoyed but have never developed any sort of academic interest in. And I suppose, too, that simply sorting through my books has made me reflect on the various continuities and discontinuities in my reading. It seemed curious to me that, while I had no qualms in getting rid of whole boxes of literary theory, and novels of all kinds, I absolutely had to keep all of the poetry.

But I fear that your congratulations on the ‘cleanness’ of my break with the books may be premature. I woke up on Monday night worrying that the Italienische Reise had found its way into one of the disposed-of boxes… Happily, I got up to discover Goethe in his right place in the ‘kept’ pile, and today I also heard the heartening news that my friend Claire has found my missing copy of Sartor Resartus (apparently lent to her some years ago), so all is right with the world. But, inbetween my frequent rests (fatigue hovers around the edges of everything at the moment) the rearranging continues. Yesterday it began to annoy me that, while I had got rid of Eliza Haywood and Amelia Opie, authors such as Brett Easton Ellis, Zadie Smith, and Jeanette bloody Winterson (Art Objects is almost as ridiculous as her views on homeopathic medicine) remained on my shelves. Needless to say, Winterson is now correctly located in the large ‘get rid of’ pile that is developing in the kitchen. And I was just about to dispose of Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, but I turned to the flyleaf and disovered a quotation from Rilke that I had written there in 1993. I put it back on the shelf.

27 responses

  1. I happily gave away a whole bag full of novels to a friend this morning. I felt lighter (physically and emotionally) and she was stoked, so we both left the exchange feeling pleased. Thanks again for the motivation.

  2. Your series of posts reminded me of an episode several years ago when I moved home (rather suddenly, but that’s irrelevant) and needed to dispose of a mountain of books. I left carrier bag after carrier bag outside charity shops in Gloucestershire. But the thing is, I have a Kindle now. In years to come, when I need to free myself of a book burden, it’ll just be a case of Select-Delete. A short, sharp pain and gone. Is that a good thing?

  3. Poetry provides an endless possibility of meaning. I remember taking a semester course on Emily Dickinson’s poetry at university and being absolutely absorbed by her work. Your earlier blog post about your OED reminded me of the hours I poured over my two volumes (pre-computer days) when studying Dickinson’s work…finding out the age-old meanings of individual words and how those meanings illuminated her poetry. Amazing.

  4. I love Winterson’s Art Objects, although I do find her views on homoeopathic medicine extremely erroneous and irritating. I have always liked the ambition of PROJEKT WINTERSON, even though it is gauche, and even though she is vain, and even though sometimes her prose feels over-lavish and declamatory… in spite of all this, I like her big ego and her defence of the imagination.

    Art Objects was consoling for me to read during my time as an art student; a passionate defence of ART was much needed when I read the book and perhaps this distracted me from the politics of the book. Still, although much of the ART Winterson defends in Art Objects is (to my tastes at least) extremely conservative, her articulate talk about Whiteread’s house and the Angel of the North which she gave at TATE London was energising and fresh.

    I may find that time and maturity have tempered my enthusiasm for her ideas; – certainly, I had to unsubscribe from her increasingly smug and opinionated monthly newsletters – but I think she said some very provocative/interesting things about values/art in Art Objects which I found very useful to relate to other texts on the same, and which I enjoyed weaving into my undergraduate thesis. Plus, I always loved the angry essay she wrote about how you cannot compare the writings of two writers purely on the basis that those two writers are lesbians,and her Greer-like insistence on looking at THE WORK and not THE WOMAN when analysing the merits of art works. My tattered, ear-marked, dog-eared, highlighter-penned, folded pages edition of Art Objects could never go into a “to go” pile. I couldn’t throw away my poetry books either.

    I have enjoyed reading all the comments on Herbsttag!

  5. I’ve been reading Susan Hill’s “Howards End is on the Landing”, and this post reminds me of that – she is a great one for annotating books.

    I’ve also decided to have a year of reading from home myself. So many books that I want to read, and it’s silly to keep adding to the pile. There will doubtless be pruning in the process.

    • If I understand your phrase “reading from home” as meaning that you will read what you have already bought, accumulated and sorted through, and to refrain from buying/borrowing new ones, then you have inspired me. I have several lifetimes of books waiting for me on my own shelves! Now, what to do about wonderfully reviewed or highly recommended books from friends? I guess I could make one more list…

  6. So very interesting how a translator’s style can birth a passion for a particular poet or not. I found bits and pieces in all the various translations that appealed to me and thought it might be fun to stitch those snipets together and see what shape the poem takes.
    Barbara, USA

  7. Good for you for giving yourself a short delay to think about your choices. Of course you would keep all the poetry – that calls for re reading meditating more than any other kind of books. Actually, I wasn’t surprised you would quote Rilke – it was the choice of that particular poem, which seemed both disconnected and strongly related to what you had been blogging about previously that I found interesting. And it is such a beautiful poem too.

  8. I find it so hard to get rid of books, even the ones I don’t like!! I must make an effort with poetry again. Since finishing university ( a long time ago!!) my poetry reading has become very limited. Time to remedy that! Cx

  9. I have fond memories of reading Sexing the Cherry when I was young, but there isn’t a copy on my bookshelf. Perhaps I should count myself lucky to be living in ignorance of Winterson’s views on homeopathy and most other things.
    I do have Rilke on my shelf, thank goodness!
    What good posts and comments these past few days have brought.

    • I have similar fond memories, but read something by her recently that I’ve so effectively blocked out that I can never recall the title. And I never made it past the first page of American Psycho, so I guess I’m in the no-BEE camp as well. Now, poetry – there is not nearly enough on my shelves. I have never studied poetry, and haven’t encountered other means of learning to appreciate it.

  10. I would keep Zadie Smith as I totally love the book cover of her first and third novel (I like the mix of glossy and non-glossy, just could touch the texture over and over) :-) But, after many relocations I know that books are extremely heavy and I allow them to travel, some do come back, some don’t but there are some that were so bad I would not dare to lend it to someone.
    A friend puts frequently a box of books outside with the sign “Please take one”

  11. I’ve made a rule (sometimes broken, of course) never to buy a book until I’ve read a borrowed library copy at least twice and can imagine re-reading the work yet again an indefinite number of times. Then, every year or so, I scan my shelves to see whether any duds sneaked in or whether I’ve outgrown some works; I donate the culls (magazines and dvds, too) to my local public library, which holds regular sales of donated items. Of course, I didn’t enter academia and so buy books only for my own pleasure, not for professional research – that keeps the numbers down.

    I’ve never bothered to read Bret Easton Ellis even once.

  12. I also had to give up at least half my book collection (mainly fiction and some academic texts) when I moved. I still go to my bookshelves now wondering if a particular book was in favour the day I decided (keep/Oxfam/Katy). My friend Katy took half of the books I shed as she had just moved into a new house herself and had one bookshelf she needed to fill up. She particularly liked, ‘Is that it?’ by Bob Geldof (a Christmas present) and The Illiad.

  13. Should you ever visit, I will have to cover the bookshelves, so you won’t see some of the trashy stuff that I love to read …… the sort of books that you don’t actually have to put your brain in gear to read. These days, reading for me is strictly a leisure activity, mainly done with my after-breakfast cuppa.

    • If you like mystery you should try one of Alan Furst’s espionage books. I just discovered him and am now like an addict. I mention this not because it is trash– it is not that AT ALL. But, it sounds like you read as a form of escape, and boy, would this put you on the edge of your seat!!

  14. I’m so glad you ditched Brett. I never managed to finish anything he ever wrote. But, zadie. I dunno, I can believe I’ll reread her.

    But what i really think is that you should chuck all classics that you won’t need to read in the middle of the night (easy to replace or find in a library) but keep anything even remotely trashy that you love. Those go out of print and then are really hard to find. Maybe the Kindle will change that….

  15. I just completed (another) trans-Atalantic move this weekend, and after a decade of research and study in the States, I’d also managed to accumulate quite the collection of books that I was quite certain were as representative of me as any personality trait. I was proud of my ‘clean break’ with those boxes of books (not quite 49!) – but now in our new home I find myself looking at odd corners and in the back of closets for novels that are no longer there. All I kept were textbooks, which as a scientist I cannot really get rid off without a strange sense of anxiety. And all this is made worse by the fact that I not only print my name in books I love, but also the date and the location I purchased the particular book at – so somewhere out there in the world, the cities and years of my life are finding new owners at the same time as my books. But good for you and good for me, now we can console ourselves with a little therapeutic book-buying. Thank you for your post.

  16. Glad you continued with your get rid of books story. I too have woken up thinking I might regret this or that and also could not agree more regarding Winterson and Z Smith, they are gone.
    My regrets started with seeing a staircase with in-built shelves, imagine a big U with the bottom being the stairs and between each and every step the U was a shelf filled with books – so comforting and suppose I would stumble across a fortune and have a house like that but without all my beloved books, oh the horror. Letting go is not easy.

  17. When I was much younger, I borrowed and enjoyed Winterson’s The Passion, but after Art and Lies, (or was it Written on the body?), I found myself having very little patience with her. Zadie Smith I gave up on after 50 pages, and I have never been able to face Bret Easton Ellis. I can’t imagine ever re-reading Winterson either, but I re-read A Tale of Two Cities recently and still had to use five hankies for the ending (sniff). I’ve never even bothered to house-clean my poetry, I don’t think I’ll ever stop finding meanings in it.

    Book clearance can make you face up to your image you have of yourself, and who you thought you were, or might be if you read these books. I finally had to ask myself if I would feel the lack if I never got round to reading Ulysses (I had read the first 150 pages three times) and I came back with an unqualified “No”.

    Obviously, there was absolutely no question of the Georgette Heyers going out.

    Hope the fatigue takes a back seat soon.

  18. Just wanted to say I enjoyed reading the various Rilke translation, your thoughts about them and the comments/discussion that ensued. I feel privileged and blessed that I can read and “feel” poetry in three languages (German, Gaelic and English) and I consider translating poetry an almost impossible task. You can translate the words, and even that might be difficult, but often you can not adequately convey the feeling, the spirit or the idea evoked by the original.

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