A Passion for Books by Dale Salwak (eds.)

By Dale Salwak (eds.)

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Otherwise: total blank, nada, zilch. Read The Idiot roughly thirty years ago - a novel set in Russia, isn't it? Plots do not stay all that long in my mind. I do not, as a previous generation did, memorize vast stretches of poetry. What I consciously take away from many of the books I read are scenes, oddments, bits and pieces. I am somehow less interested in the final meaning of T. S. Eliot's 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' than I am in the fact that so many of the phrases from that poem have stuck in my mind for more than forty years.

A Passion for Books © Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999 34 Ferdinand Mount approved of so much: someone who tended to regard books as more real than life, more reliable, more concrete even. As so often, precocity had grown into something even more repulsive: the bibliomaniac's cold carapace that repels ordinary experience. And by books I mean books, not words. Les Mots - so talismanic for chatterboxes like Sartre - seemed to me shadowy, fleeting things, until after they were safely sunk into the page, their hooks and uprights and downstrokes absorbed in that thick, breadlike paper that pre-war novels were printed on.

In this respect, reading is much the same as listening. We may 40 Ferdinand Mount mishear, because the speaker's voice is too indistinct, or his brogue is too thick. Or we may misunderstand, because his vocabulary is too abstruse or laced with dialect words, because his words are interspersed with so much superfluous verbiage, or because we mistake his emphasis. Or we may fail to understand, because we are too ignorant, or too humourless. But most of the time, we reckon we understand well enough for our purposes; we do not in ordinary life despair of the possibility of communicating effectively with others.

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