Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Friday 4 January 2008

If on a winter's night....

I stop myself, just in time, from simply copying out the best part of a page and a half of Calvino's litany of all the different kinds of books that seem to waylay you in the bookshop. I've evidently come very late to this particular cult, and it would be rather gauche to do something so obvious, however amusing it is to read it for the first time.

Instead, I'm following up a meme based on it that I found on Amy Nelson-Mile's Books blog. Here's what I'd fit into Calvino's many categories:

Books You Needn't Read
Instant celebrity memoirs

Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading
Coffee table books; I have given - and been given - some beautiful ones, but somehow I don't think they get looked at very often.

Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written
Most of those would-be humorous books that are only produced for the Christmas market.

Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered
Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback
Luscious cookery books (I confess I didn't buy Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries till I saw it at half-price); and large and important history books (Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography, for example). An alternative Calvino doesn't mention is Books You'll Put On Reservation At The Public Library - are public libraries not so useful or available in Italy, or was he hoping to encourage book sales?

Books You Can Borrow From Somebody
Well, that answers my question about public libraries - they'd be my Somebody.

Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too
Catch-22. I tried, I really tried, but I just couldn't get into it. Likewise more or less the entire oeuvre of Martin Amis (I can't stand all those "Look, Daddy, no hands" metaphors).

Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages
Don Quixote - somehow I think I may never get round to it - and Dickens's Our Mutual Friend.

Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success
This is a bit of a cheat (because I could easily buy it any time), but I've been waiting for ages for someone to return to the public library Carmen Callil's Bad Faith, which I've now reserved by inter-library loan, so I might get it fairly quickly.

Books Dealing With Something You're Working On At The Moment
These would be exactly the kind of thing I'd look to the library for. But I still occasionally turn for reference (and because it's lovely to look at it, if a bit dated now, to my own copy of Darcy DiNucci's Elements of Web Design.

Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case
A remainder store occasionally has a book sale where I work, and I actually bought The Times Complete History of the World from them very cheaply. If I ever want to know about the Alans, the empires of Asia or pre-colonial Africa, this will be the place to look.

Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer
Assorted detective stories, and assorted prize-nominated and newspaper-recommended novels I've never caught up with. I might be looking for A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Yacoubian Building, What Was Lost, Wildwood, The Wild Places.

Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves
More of EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia, and Orlando Figes's The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia. That's a weird-looking juxtaposition, but I suppose the former reminds one how lucky we are to be in a position to laugh away some pretty horrible human characteristics.

Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
I picked up a German overview of "digital literature", complete with CD, when I had some time on my hands and was fascinated by interwebby-techno developments. Still haven't really got into it, let alone follow up on the authors it discusses, and it's probably been long since overtaken by events.

Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread
Tristram Shandy (hmm, compare and contrast with If on a Winter's Night), Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them
A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. I had to read the first two books as set texts once - I keep meaning to catch up with the more louche bits. I even bought a nice new edition in Paris a few years ago. I avert my gaze from it on my shelves - as with quite a large pile of other books waiting to be opened.

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