(Please direct complaints about typos to the Italian evening air.)
I realized, when the suitcase was finally packed, that I had big plans for my holiday. Books — loads of them. A plethora, a glut, a veritable bookberg in my poor, groaning suitcase. As a writer, one of life’s ongoing panics centres around the number of good books out there; how, sweet how, can I hope to produce good prose if I havenÃƒÂ??t read the best in sufficient quantity to have my skull bulging in a suitcase-like manner?
My knowledge of literature gives ‘patchy’ a bad name. I haven’t read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ although I’ve read ‘Great Expectations’. ‘War and Peace’ goes unread, but I’m half-way through ‘Anna Karenina’. I’ve macheted my way into deepest ‘Ancient Evenings’ and ‘The Naked and the Dead’ but I’m worried that ‘Harlot’s Ghost’ might injure my foot if I drop it, so that remains unbought.
Now, of course, I have two glorious weeks of ‘holiday’ in which to correct a lifetime of reading enjoyable junk.
To Ravenna, I am accompanied by Bragg’s ‘The Adventure of English’ (finished, you hear me, finished!), which is a thorough and often oddly-phrased work that charts the course of the Good Ship English around the world. Bragg is an enthusiastic dilettante and succeeds where others — Bryson, for example, with his irritating ‘Mother Tongue’ — have failed. Money and time well-spent. Next up is Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’, but the bookmark refuses to travel through this one, don’t look at me. After that, Kuhn’s ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, which I’ve already skipped to. It promises to be an interesting and important read; more credit for the bank of experience.
Part of me wonders whether this race (which will remain unwon on the day I, regrettably, die) is worth the spiked shoes. Is a writer a function of his reading, in the way that an organism’s body is a function of its diet? Or is the writer greater than the sum of his parts? I think already we know the answer to this one, friends and neighbours. It’s nature and nurture all over again. Whatever the percentage either way, the answer to this one is simple: stay in the race, keep reading, and keep writing.