When, and how, do I say goodbye to a book?

My Penguin copy of VS Pritchett Collected Short stories is disintegrating.  It’s well read, and is a 1982 reprint, so some might say it’s had it’s day. Every time I open it pages flutter around my feet, and they’re not designed for independence, so the loose leaves are getting brittle.

disintigrating book.2 jpgI’m not good at throwing books out.  Passing them along is one thing: destroying them quite another.  I’ve listed my reasons in this case, but prioritising has been tricky.

First, Pritchett has not yet been recognised with a ‘retrospective’, even though The Royal Society of Literature have been awarding a £1000 short story prize in his name since ‘the beginning of the new millennium’ (I’m afraid you’ve just missed this year’s deadline, maybe next year?).  Without reprints, even fragments of his writing have especial value.

Point one-A:

“There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them.” – Ray Bradbury.

Second, several stories in this copy are not repeated in the three other Pritchett collections I own, or in any of my twentieth century story anthologies. So, I’d need to trawl the second-hand market for the missing ones, which are in at least three other Pritchett collections.  My short-story shelves are already overflowing, therefore I’d need another shelf…

Point Two-A

” The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.” ~Samuel Butler, 1835 – 1902

Hmm, I’d discover more of his stories, and gain a shelf: that means more book space.

Point Two-B

Pritchett collections are scarce, and I’m afraid to report that – don’t look, Ruth, unless you’ve removed your bookseller hat, this will distress you –  one of the copies bought for the course I’m just completing was sold WITH PAGES MISSING.  I suppose a few gaps are less tricky in collected short stories than in a novel, then maybe pulping, or (gulp) burning can be justified.  But what do we do with still-complete fragmenting books?

Point Two-C:

“It is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.”  ― Heinrich Heine 1797 – 1856

Point Two-D:

“It hardly matters why a library is destroyed: every banning, curtailment, shredding, plunder or loot gives rise (at least as a ghostly presence) to a louder, clearer, more durable library of the banned, looted, plundered, shredded or curtailed.”  ― Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night. 2008

Thought three carries a warning for sensitive, book-purists: my Pritchett contains multi-coloured highlighted sections, plus both pencilled and penned notes in the margins. This is not random vandalism, each mark signals appreciation.  I suppose, in time, I could replicate those responses in other copies, but would they still mean the same things?

Point Three-A

“[I]t is pleasanter to eat one’s own peas out of one’s own garden, than to buy them by the peck at Covent Garden; and a book reads the better, which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots and dog’s-ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins, or over a pipe…  – Charles Lamb, letter to S. T. Coleridge, October 1802

disintigrating bookConclusion:  Do loose pages matter, so long as I keep them together?  I’ve a pot of elastic bands, I could combine them with my distressed books and solve two recycling problems. Perhaps that new shelf I mentioned will be a refuge for delicate books.

“I have friends whose society is delightful to me; they are persons of all countries and of all ages; distinguished in war, in council, and in letters; easy to live with, always at my command.” – Francesco Petrarch, 1304 – 1374

“Far more seemly were it for thee to have thy study full of books, than thy purse full of money.” ~John Lyly, 1553 – 1606

“What wild desires, what restless torments seize
The hapless [wo]man, who feels the book-disease…” ~John Ferriar, “The Bibliomania, An Epistle, To Richard Heber, Esq.”, 1809

disintigrating books

I’d like to recommend V.S. Pritchett

book cover pritchettVictor Sawden Pritchett (or VSP, as he preferred to be known) was a prolific British writer,born in 1900, he died in 1997.  For fifty years of the twentieth century he produced stories, and he was popular.

Yes but, you might say, he’s writing about life an awfully long while ago. Why bother? There are lots of modern stories to choose from.

Well, it’s useful to see how things have changed, or not changed, in lived lives, and the way words are used.  VSP once said:

“I should like to think that a writer just celebrates being alive.  I shall be sorry to die, but the notion of seeing life celebrated from day to day is so wonderful that I can’t see the point of believing anything else.”

Of all the advice given out by writers, one of the few things they agree on is that writers should read.  Many list VSP amongst their favourite authors.  To find out why, you could look at critical discussions explaining what he did, and even how, but before you do that, track down one of his stories and see if the magic touches you.

You might start with, ‘The Voice’. It’s set during the London blitz, and begins:

A message came from the rescue party, who straightened up and leant on their spades in the rubble. The policeman said to the crowd: ‘Everyone keep quiet for five minutes. No talking, please.  They’re trying to hear where he is.’

The silent crowd raised their faces and looked across the ropes to the church which, now it was destroyed, broke the line of the street like a decayed tooth.

Soon singing is heard, from below the rubble.

‘That’s Mr Morgan all right,’ the warden said. ‘He could sing.  He got silver medals for it.’

The Reverend Frank Lewis frowned.

‘Gold, I shouldn’t wonder,’ said Mr Lewis dryly.  Now he knew Morgan was alive, he said: ‘What the devil’s he doing in there? How did he get in? I locked up at eight o’clock last night myself.’

Lewis was a wiry, middle-aged man, but the white dust on his hair and his eyelashes, and the way he kept licking the dust off his dry lips, moving his jaws all the time, gave him the monkeyish, testy and suspicious air of an old man.  He had been up all night on rescue work in the raid and he was tired out.  The last straw was to find the church had gone and that Morgan, the so-called Reverend Morgan, was buried under it.

It’s not the last straw though, this is only the beginning.  Eudora Welty said:

‘Any Pritchett story is all of it alight and busy at once, like a well-going fire. Wasteless and at the same time well-fed, it shoots up in flame from its own spark like a poem or a magic trick, self-consuming, with nothing left over. He is one of the great pleasure-givers in our language’

It’s as good a definition as any I’ve seen.

The scandal of it, Lewis was thinking.  Must he sing so loud, must he advertise himself?  I locked up myself last night.  How the devil did he get in? And he really meant: How did the devil get in?

More to the point, will he get out, and what will happen along the way?