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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A bookman's advice

Tuesday, July 30th., Dieppe.

From Antibes to Dieppe (now a thousand times more English than Caen ever was) I motored 1,185 miles, averaging only 170 miles per day. And yet I seemed to have lived in the car! On a tour one ought to motor only every other day. But one cannot. One is forced on and on by the distressing irrational desire to arrive at a certain destination at a certain time. And my holiday reading came with me.

Ordinary people, by which I mean people not specially interested in books, when they are going off for a holiday, do their packing and then think about books, if indeed they think about books at all! But bookmen (and women) take pleasure in thinking what books they will pack, and what wonderful reading they will do while distant from their bookshelves. They dream upon books before they dream upon neckties - or even upon frocks. Their dreams seldom come true; but does that seriously matter? A dream is an end in itself.

The thing somehow works out differently. The notion that you have more time for reading from home than at home is a fallacious one. The great readers of the earth, I have found, are generally the busy people with not a moment to spare. We all assert, honestly and not untruthfully, that we lack time for reading; but we have at home more time than we think. The proof: When a 'busy' person happens to get hold of a book which really interests him, he will miraculously discover hidden reserves of time for reading it. I once knew a young woman whose existence, like that of most young women, was one incessant rush. She was forever complaining that she could only read in bed, and that as soon as she began to read in bed she went to sleep. I excited her by remarks about Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and lent her the book. She read it in four days! When I asked her how she managed the feat she could not reply because she did not know the answer.

People who want to read make time for reading at home because minutes for reading are few, and therefore precious. On holiday, minutes are as plenteous as pebbles on the beach, there is no hurry, tomorrow will do, and so little reading gets done. For myself, I have never yet on a holiday read what I had intended to read or as much as I had desired to read.

In regard to the choice of holiday books, the first rule is to choose too many. The wise reader takes books not necessarily to read them, but to have them handy for any accidents of mood. A bookman takes more books than he is ever likely to read. They are his balance at the bank. Nothing is more terrible than to be seized with a fever of reading and to finish the last of your stock. It is like the end of the world, the Day of Judgement, being thrown out of a situation, being cast on the streets. The heart horribly sinks. Take an extravagant plenty of books, for you know not what a day may bring forth. The second rule is to include in your selection a good proportion of old friends. A fine, strange book may enthrall you, but it may not, and your only refuge is a book that you know of old. The third rule is to free yourself of the idea that on a holiday you should improve your mind and that therefore you should choose books which you ought to read rather than books which you enjoy reading. The idea is ridiculous. If you have not improved your mind in eleven months at home you had better leave your mind in its primeval imbecility. Think only of the pleasure of reading. If your taste is low, which God forbid, let it be low!

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