I'm sleeping with Beryl Bainbridge........Dame Beryl Bainbridge......at last. I'm a huge fan of Beryl, I think she's brilliant. However, I've never actually read any of her books. Not a one. Zilch, nada, naught, not even a page. I've read articles by her and about her, seen documentaries, heard her on the radio and everything I've heard, read, seen I like. I especially love the fact that all her parties, and there seem to have been many, included a boisterous rendition of Rolf Harris's Two Little Boys. And that she died at 75 after a short battle with cancer, surrounded by family and friends all singing along. Who could ask for anything more. I'd be well happy with that ending. I loved her craggy, fringed face, hollowed by a lifetime's devotion to cigarettes and a fondness for whiskey. She was, I believe, everything a writer should be. I would liked to have known her but I didn't. So, this year my first resolution was to read a Beryl Bainbridge novel. And now, everynight, I tuck up with Beryl and I have to say I'm loving it. I haven't read any Dickens either or Nabakov for that matter. I have friends who've actually read War & Peace, which again I have not. Another one for the to do list.
As luck would have it I had an early, slim volume, of Beryl's: The Dressmaker, amongst the unread books on my unread book shelf. Many of the books I own are unread because I tend to give away the ones I have read. Unless they are quite special to me. I used to be quite precious about books, packing and unpacking them, piling them high every time I moved, never actually intending to read them again. I would lend them out and then panic they might not be returned. And then one day I thought why I am I hording all these books? Once enjoyed, why not release them back into the world? Let them go on to delight, sadden, inspire, annoy, enrage and reduce others to tears of mirth. So now, I pass my books on to friends ....... or the the nearest charity shop ....... set free, the paperbacks can roam across another's book shelf or lurk upon on the bedside table.
I seem to have acquired a rather a lot of unread books lately and Christmas hasn't helped. Clearly the printed word is not dead. Not yet. Even if the bookshop is. I, like many, could go on about the joy of loitering in bookshops: wandering amongst the dusty tomes, leafing through a first edition while the knowledgeable and bespectacled proprietor teeters above on a ladder, searching for Fly Fishing by J R Hartly. Except I, like many, have discovered the joy of Amazon. What can I say? I take full responsibility for my part in the book shop's downfall. But it's so hard when I can buy any book I want, for £2.47 plus pp at the touch of a button. The secondhand books are brilliant. I found an airline ticket in one. An airline ticket! That's practically a collector's item in itself. Obviously used as a bookmark, I studied the name and destination, imagining what journey this book might of taken. Another has a lengthy inscription to an old friend in America, several have the name of the original owner proprietorially scrawled in the top, right hand corner. These story books are writing their own stories........
Top tip: get out of the cold and take yourself off to Africa, read Out Of Shadows by Jason Wallace, winner of the Costa children's book of the year but a brilliant read at any age, oh yes and he's my cousin......http://www.outofshadows.co.uk/