Monday, February 3, 2014

Book ends...

They were my friends, my love, my mirror, my culture, my home. Years haunting libraries, book shops, leafing through forgotten treasures...sold by the kilo at the flea-market.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." Cicero

The process was gut-wrenching, I had been so familiar with the arrangement of the titles, the orderly bindings on the shelves. The secrets hidden behind the first row of books.

Death reduced their combined magic to a logistic burden.  Who would be interested now in poems by Walter de la Mare, in the pre-war adventure of Bulldog Drummond? Christ what does anyone do with the 'Complete Works of Titus Flavius Josephus'? One by one they ended up in detergent boxes from the Coop. How does one desacralize a life? Never underestimate the emotional tie of a book collection.

"Why did you miss exercise 5 on page 46?"
Well frankly I thought he was joking. No, he was serious, he really was concerned that I had flitted by the essential relative-pronoun gap-fill at mid-point of the lesson. Who was I to question such instruction? He was very nice about it in a stern, school-masterly sort of way but his intent was firm. I was the solemn executor of Cambridge 2's will and heaven forbid that I should forget my place. The teachers' book was jovially insistent, after reading the excruciating exciting text extract, I was to embark on filling gaps.. (religiously).

Living by the book
There was fun, silly songs on the cassette, beautifully tabled grammar, a rather impressive table of up-dated contents. What was there not to be happy about? As a keen, conscientious, lively teacher, I could photocopy a few supplementary activities from the reassuringly jolly  Cambridge, Macmillan, Oxford, photo-copiable resource books. God, how generous they were to make us feel that we could finally rip their books without guilt. I don't miss them. The books were taken unceremoniously last week to the university in a box for detergent. Long may they lie in peace to rot.

The Good Book
It's still sitting there glowering on a shelf, holy dustily unwelcome.  I am an atheist God-damn you! I still feel a visceral fear of that Holy nonsense. Years of conditioning, of common prayer, of fearful threats. Jesus died for you.

"I wouldn't like to think that you were not going to be in heaven with me, with us." 

I will take my chances. Bloody dinosaurs existed, that's my belief. I saw the skeletons with my children in the natural history museum. God created the world in seven days and Genesis forgot to talk about the afternoon when the brontosaurus met its asteroid. Bloody stupid oversight if you ask me.

Burn their books, for without them they are but a sot like I.
Open to interpretation, if you ask me. I fail to understand how they are all getting so excited about their damned holy books. Desacralize them. Their power is a chimera.  Are they incapable of taking a few steps back and seeing the nonsense for what it is? Joseph Smith, got his book of Mormon and then lost his specs. Well Joseph, now I can relate to you. Without my glasses I am a sot like you. Unplug the photocopier. Feel the space. Strikes me we have a wholly unwelcome attachment to books.

What are you saying?
The Zen master Mu-nan had only one successor. His name was Shoju. After Shoju had completed his study of Zen, Mu-nan called him into his room. "I am getting old," he said, "and as far as I know, Shoju, you are the only one who will carry on this teaching. Here is a book. It has been passed down from master to master for seven generations. I also have added many points according to my understanding. The book is very valuable, and I am giving it to you to represent your successorship.""If the book is such an important thing, you had better keep it," Shoju replied. "I received your Zen without writing and am satisfied with it as it is.""I know that," said Mu-nan. "Even so, this work has been carried from master to master for seven generations, so you may keep it as a symbol of having received the teaching. Here."The two happened to be talking before a brazier. The instant Shoju felt the book in his hands he thrust it into the flaming coals. He had no lust for possessions.Mu-nan, who never had been angry before, yelled: "What are you doing!"Shoju shouted back: "What are you saying!"

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