I’ve recently had several conservations about growing up in a house with no books. I didn’t really feel the lack at the time, as I didn’t know any better, but I do remember that it led to some early reading choices which still make me cringe. I’ve no intention of embarrassing myself further by giving specifics here (in a con bar, if you buy me a drink, perhaps). No, the confession I need to make regards having lied: there were books in my parents’ house. There just weren’t many, and most of them held no interest for me.
The only place books might be found was my late father’s study, which was generally ‘out of bounds’ to myself and my brother. I vaguely remember that he had a handful of textbooks, probably related to architecture (he was an architect by training and a surveyor by trade), plus some gardening books and a couple of (I think) nature-related publications by the good old Readers’ Digest. There was only one work of (sort of) fiction (i.e. a proper book, in my childish world-view) and I wasn’t allowed to touch it as it was rare and irreplacable.
I did, however, inherit it, something that had slipped my increasingly sieve-like mind until today when I was perusing my bookshelves in
a blatant act of writing avoidance search of inspiration. The book is called ‘An Apology for the Life of James Fennell’ and is the (somewhat embellished) autobiography of one of my ancestors, a rakish eighteenth century entrepreneur whose fortunes were (repeatedly) ruined by impressive combinations of bad luck and bad judgement.
It opens thus:
"When Learning played the wanton with a drowsy world, debauched herself, and grasped the scandalous pay of ignorance, drugging with opiates the intellects of man, she wore the harlotry of dress; she flirted, flattered and cajoled. Her eye forgot the countenance sublime that dared once face heaven’s self, and with a downcast look, pretending virtue and religion, she dragged her solemn heavy step along, trampling o’er dozing mortals."
I think it’s safe to say that they definitely don’t write ’em like that any more. I wonder what great-great (and some) grandad James would have made of what I write now?