Have you ever tried one of those self-improvement recordings that are supposed to connect with the unconscious mind? The kind where a north American orders you to relax and then tells you to focus, visualise your goals and so on, whilst drawing your attention to everything in your life that sends your blood pressure soaring, leaves you a shaking unfocused wreck and wondering if life is worth living.
There was a link to one of these recordings in my inbox this morning and I clicked on it, mainly because the last ‘dodgy’ email I ignored, because it looked like a Viagra advert, turned out to be nothing of the kind, but an order from an old and valued customer. He sent the email repeatedly, and I ignored it repeatedly, because it was now obviously spam: in the end he had to sent me a letter.
Wound-up, like an over-wound clock ready to snap, and reduced to a gibbering imbecile after listening to this ‘improving’ recording I stood and stared out of the window. So much for Spring Bank Holiday; the blossom on the cherry tree was being thrown against the window like confetti by the wind and opposite a neighbour was struggling to drag his dustbin to the bottom of the drive as the rain began to lash down.
I needed to relax and focus on something constructive, so I put on a Mozart CD, and started cataloguing a copy of Eikon Basilike, moved on to a volume of Eighteenth Century poetry, with a satisfyingly puzzling collation, and then turned to a private interest; the different editions of Henry James’s shorter writings, in their various reprintings in magazines and books. This later task involves handling satisfying, chunky volumes in attractive cloth bindings, many with that booky smell, oom! that speaks to the unconscious mind so much more clearly than the gravel voiced self-improver did.
I turned to the stack of James stories in the original magazines to find A London Life;- by the by have any of you noticed how hard it is to find an author you collect in magazine issues in the original wrappers? This is despite the fact that Victorian and Edwardian magazines are two a penny, often turning up in great wobbly stacks at auction sales and in shop basements, where we trip over them and curse lightly. But go through those stacks, if you collect Henry James or Thomas Hardy (or any other prolific contributor), and they are never there. Is this an example of Sod’s law ( that’s probably ‘butter side down’ to my North American readers), or did someone get there first?
Envy of the collector who got there first;- is there any book lover who has not felt it? Has not peered at the book another customer is holding in their hand in a bookshop, wondering if they have got there first and picked up the very book we want. Has not cursed the richer collector, or top of the market dealer, who has paid the equivalent of what we earn in a year for a book we could appreciate so much better than them? I have seen gentle middle aged scholars, trembling, gripped with emotion, like the hero of a Shakespearian tragedy, when a longer-for volume eludes them by minutes. It would take more than old gravel voice to calm them down and if he told them, as he told me, that there is no such thing as failure, only learning opportunities, even the meekest would probably give way to a violent unconscious impulse.
Its strange but I, myself, have been the subject of envy surprisingly often in life. I say surprising because I am not rich, am smaller statue than average and not particularly lucky in love. At university I was the envy of a friend who had everything; a vacation job at a top firm of accountants, pretty girls hanging off the bulging muscles of his arm and social skills that put an ‘Open‘ sign on any door: but what he envied was my place on the Eng. Lit. course, which he could easily have taken, but his path in life was mapped out, I forget what he was studying but it lead straight to the City and he could not waste the time on an English Literature degree. Sometimes I would find him in my room surreptitiously reading my lecture notes and text books. In more recent years my work as a bookseller was a constant source of envy to people infinitely richer and more successful than me, these labours in the bowels of capitalism or toilers in the harvesting of lawyer’s fees would watch, green eyed, as I pottered round my bookshop, or book room and called it work.
The CD has stopped playing without me noticing, absorbed in my thoughts and my books. The rain too, has stopped, and sunshine is flooding garden, making the drops of rain on the purple and white sprays of lilac sparkle. Two hours have flown by; this wasn’t the blog I intended to write, I was going to regale you with a useful account of trends in bookselling, with a note about Tolkien’s prices in the coming months and a sober warning about fashions, condition and issue points during a recession;- perhaps another time, but, this time, the books I love won.
I feel calm and content, quite recovered from my stressful dose of hypnotic self improvement: give me Eine kleine Nachtmuskik and a book any day.