My weakness

The title should not lead you to believe that the author imagines he has but a single weakness.  For a start, I have no reason to believe that I am any more immune to gunfire, “fire” fire or ionising radiation than the next mammal.  No, the title focuses on a single weakness in a vain attempt to keep this post to a manageable length.

The weakness in question is books.  For as long as I can remember, I have had a lot of books and a strong desire to have more.  While other crazes have come and gone, the near infinite variety of books has retained my interest for more than 40 years.  It is rare that I travel more than a mile from home without at least one book – indeed, I am far more likely to have a book than my mobile phone (which may say more about my age than my passion for literature).  With a book, you always have a friend and a source of entertainment at hand – and a bulwark against the howling void of your own undirected thoughts.  Never underestimate the importance of divertissement to the avoidance of a one-way trip to La Suisse.

The recent arrival of a branch of Foyles at Waterloo station is a dangerous development as any free time waiting for a train can (all too easily) result in a new book (or books) being acquired.  The latest such entry to my library was Into the Woods by John Yorke.  This explains how and why stories work and so may prove beneficial to this blog in due course.  It also invaded my life (as books so often do), firstly when watching The Code (a recent and excellent) Australian drama on BBC4) when I found myself analysing how much worse things had yet to become for our heroes.  This was relatively harmless, but I have also caught myself trying to apply its principles to my own life, e.g. trying to precipitate an inciting incident in order to launch the hero (i.e. me) on a new journey.

As I drew to the end of that book, I wandered to Waterstones in Southampton, seeking books – but with no particular targets in mind (not even a choice as to whether they would be fiction or non).  I came away with four books – and iron self-control was needed to keep it down to four!  All have proved to be excellent, and less than half of the fourth remains to be read.  They have all been informative and entertaining, but have also made my look anew at my life.

The Blind Giant by Nick Harkaway was picked as I had read and enjoyed his fiction.  A very interesting and well thought-out take on the digital world and our place in it.  My interactions with the digital world may shift in future – but don’t worry, GofaDM is going nowhere!

Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George was chosen following last year’s winner of the Thinking Allowed prize for ethnography (about shipping) and given the fact that I now live in a container port.  A very interesting introduction into modern shipping and the container business.  When did any of us last think about the ships – and the (mostly) men that crew them – that bring most of the stuff we use?

Justice by Michael Sandel has already been mentioned in this blog.  I’d previously read his book on markets and have downloaded (but not yet listened to) his Reith Lectures from a few years back.  He really makes a chap think – and the book is also an excellent introduction to philosophy.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos is a book about translation which sounded like an interesting topic.  So indeed it was, I now have rather more respect for the poor souls who have to subtitle films and TV shows – I will perhaps mock their efforts less in the future.

Sadly, there is only a little fish left in my ear and so more books have had to be sought (and indeed bought).  I have just started on The Undivided Past by David Cannadine, a chap introduced to me by A Point of View or BBC Radio 4.  It had started very strongly, so my hopes are high.  aPoV has also prompted me to download Adam Gopnik’s memoir of his time in Paris – a few eBooks are useful when travelling abroad with only hand luggage, though for me they aren’t going to replace the real thing any time soon.  A book needs no battery and its use during take-off and landing (the most important times to be distracted) is entirely unlimited.

It remains astounding to me that some pressed vegetable fibres covered in dark marks can take you to a different world and return you safely to this one.  However, you are often returned a changed man with new ideas, different ways of looking at the world and even a desire to change your life (hopefully for the better).  So, I plan on hanging on to this weakness for as long as I can – and to Hades with the storage issues!  Hooray for books!  (If only it were National Book Week – but I’m only a month or so late).

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