Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That very part of the mind

In my bookshelves - or should I say shelves and piles - one book is always leading to another, or something read somewhere else (such as in a blog post) gets me searching for the edition of HEAT that has Brian Castro writing about W. G. Sebald and Thomas Bernhard, and so leads (after a thumbing through of other editions) to another piece of his, a story called 'My Nervous Illness' in HEAT 21, New Series, which begins:

It was while reading Jean-Paul Sartre's monumental study of Flaubert, The Family Idiot, that I fell into an 'epileptiform' state. That was Flaubert's words, not mine. It signified hallucinations, anxiety, a vague seeking for sequestration. For me, it seemed to occur every July in the southern hemisphere and sometimes, when I was in the northern hemisphere, in December, most notably on a Christmas morning, when, for example, while staying in a bed and breakfast...though there was no breakfast that morning as the owners were away...I was somewhere near the Cumbrian Lakes...I recall taking a walk along an old trading route marked with a stone wall and met a man who looked like Wordsworth.
Castro's writing - particularly his short pieces - bring to life that very part of the mind that looks up from the computer to the shelves and across at the piles of books and magazines and notes, that stirs, while you are walking, say, along a particularly busy road where the sight of the girded gap that is the building which you have always known to be there gets you thinking about other gaps, other similar experiences of being brought up short, and then so to the paving-stones after Marcel's near accident in Time Regained, and perhaps the wishfully prescriptive Kundera who would never have noticed; about something you have written elsewhere, a person you talked to that morning, or only talked about, and another book whose title eludes you but whose cover, for some reason, embodies everything you thought as you were reading it even if you are someone who tells everyone you know that covers don't matter.


  1. This is precisely why I must have books. Serendipity and browsing is not what a Kindle is made for.

  2. Yes indeed. I got a free ipod touch at the end of last year and for a while was enamoured of its reading possibilities - with the fact that I could read, for example, The Count of Monte Cristo while travelling in France without having to lug along our large Penguin tome, and that I could have all of Montaigne's essays on it, and all of Shakespeare's works, and Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, and the letters between Flaubert and George Sand... and read at night in the white on black mode without disturbing my partner, but I'm using the ipod less and less (I've never used it for music anyway). The battery on it runs down faster than it used to, and there is always that small anxiety - that it's built, of course, not to last, and so sooner or later it will need to be replaced. Quite apart from all this, reading on an electronic device is simply not the same as reading a book. You might be able to scan fast through the 'pages', but that old memory of the bit that you're looking for being on the left hand side, near the top and 'this much' into the thickness of the book, just isn't there. And there's something about having all of your favourite books assembled around you, no matter how disorganised, making a dwelling of sorts that keeps out the weather.