18 April 2010

The Private Life of Books

Looking down the list of my draft blog-posts which never saw the light of day I can see that most of them start with "am feeling so guilty about not having posted in weeks/months/centuries" and then I start writing about a book and then my internet cuts out and I get fed up. Admittedly I have dodgy internet that does cut out a lot- normally when I am trying to balance laptop and dinner on my lap on the couch whilst watching Peep Show. I wonder if that has anything to do with it? Anyway, since I spend a lot of time writing about my guilt, I've decided to absolve myself of any guilty feelings and just get down to it.

This article in the Guardian about the private lives of books made me think of my favourite second-hand-book-buying story. I warn you now, it is a bit pretentious, but when you're talking obscure dyslit gems found in the south of France, how could you be anything but?

Picture this- my first year of university, I meet french learning, guitar playing, dyslit reading Russian. (Le sigh). Said Russian turns up to class to tell me he found copy of 1985 on the weekend. I gently correct him, saying "I think you'll find it's 1984". He looks at me like I am an idiot and says "Uh, no. 1985. Anthony Burgess' critique of 1984 which consists of a theoretical essay followed by his own fictional account of the future". I blush. Then spend years futile-ly trying to track down a copy of 1985- I love Orwell, I love Burgess... but I didn't love the Russian any more thus borrowing his copy was out of the question.

Three years later, I was backpacking in Avignon, have run out of books to read and facing a six hour train trip the next day. I spent a little while googling until I found evidence of an English bookshop. I made a trek across town. I found a bookshop in the middle of nowhere. There I found found a copy of 1985... cue delirious excitement. I started reading and things became even more exciting. The previous owner of the book had some pretty strong views on some of the stuff Burgess wrote. Lots of underlining. Lots of '?!' in the middle of paragraphs. A couple of instances of 'ugh!'. My personal favourite, which made me burst out laughing during Burgess' musing on the state of socialism: a whole paragraph underlined and a single word "BALLS!" written in the margin. Fantastic. I do not know who Mr Millwood is (and that is my assuming the previous owner was a man) but I owe him a most exciting book find, and an entertaining read.
If you do ever come across a copy of the (obviously) out of print 1985, I highly recommend picking it up.
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