Some people read books. I read people. Including myself.
In a room full of bookshelves I see a map of the psychic terrain. You describe yourself by what’s on display.
If you were asked which books were the greatest books ever written, would you list the ones that you enjoyed the most or would you try and show how smart you were? Enid Blyton or Sartre?
A highly intellectual legal friend of mine read crime pulp fiction. I presume it was a mental diversion like doing a crossword puzzle.
I have some essential questions in regard to the wall of thought, those books on display, in the good room.
Have you read them? If you’ve read them, why do you keep them?
Will you re-read them?
If you do intend to re-read them, let me first warn you.
I confessed to a crime I did not commit. I blame Tom Brown’s School Days.
I was in First Form Chemistry at high school. It was just before lunch and someone had turned on the gas tap releasing the tell-tale odour that fed the bunsen burners.
The teacher asserted that no-one would leave the room until a confession was made. The teacher and I shared the view that I was the sort of person capable of such a misdemeanour.
At 11, I saw myself in Tom Brown, a minnow detaching myself from family, forming a new identity. As an English immigrant, just a couple of years into a new country, I imagined myself as a natural fit into the book’s 19th century world of an elite British boarding school, the sort that makes officers not infantry.
In a gesture drawn straight from the high-minded sensibility of the book, I decided to sacrifice myself for the greater good of the lesser ranks.
This chap would take one for the chaps.
I confessed to the crime that I had not committed.
I’ve never done it since. I have even misdirected and obfuscated to escape crimes that I truly did commit. I have learned my lesson.
The punishment, at the time, was sufficiently insignificant that I can no longer remember it.
The strap? Detention? A hundred words?
What I did feel almost immediately was shame and stupidity. If you have to do the time, you should, at least, enjoy the crime.
When I re-read Tom Brown’s School Days, forty years later, it seemed like a different book altogether.
It was full of entitled little ponces being groomed for the ruling class. A real Tom Brown would have ordered one of the lesser ranks out of the trenches to do the “right thing” and take one for the chaps.
The school bully of the book, Harry Flashman, was guilty of such crimes as consorting with the wenches down in the village. As I matured, this became a more plausible plan of action.
It seemed like another book altogether yet clearly it was not. The book was the same, the reader had changed.
Last week I devoured five hundred pages of dense type, a book that had inspired me in my mid-teens. The central character was a young man of 15 or 16 who was well-born, highly educated in reading people and the future, trained in the arts of battle and a recent immigrant to an inhospitable desert planet. His messianic future unfolds. It is destined.
I can see why I liked the book so much at that age. Back then, I was pretty sure that was a description of me.
I challenge you to re-read the books of your childhood. You may see Dorian Gray in the mirror but the painting may also be visible in the back of the frame.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Red Symons is a musician of the ’70s, TV vaudevillian of the ’80s and ’90s, radio voice of the new millennium and a sprinkled condiment in the theatre and print