I live in my flat, surrounded by nearly a lifetime’s worth of books spread out around the place even some on shelves in the kitchen. I started to collect and develop, my own taste in authors works, around the time, I came to live here in London. Mostly as a student, I collected second hand novels and the saving, made it possible to read plenty of the classics, that I felt my education up until the age of sixteen, had seemed to ‘leave out’. Bar the fact my mother taught us to read from a young age, and allowed us a choice of books from the school catalogue, she also made sure there was a good enough supply of abridged versions of classics with illustrations, so that as young as we were at the ages of say four to six, there was plenty of stimulus to look at books. And in a way, I am glad to have been her youngest child. I had an absent Godfather who also sent me wonderful books, and dresses.
With e-books becoming popular, I was thinking of cutting down on the scale of the collection, but, to be truthful even the covers, and the secretiveness of the content of a book, make it a mystery. It is like looking round a second hand shop full of curios. I especially like rediscovering tales that have been quite original and different in the backdrop of another culture or far away destination, and possibly time.
I picked up Albert Camus’ Exile and the Kingdom, from the shelf this evening, to find the story The Renegade. It is a story of extremes, both in the condition of the characters, and the landscape of the hot desert of West Africa. The narrator mentions Taghasa, and wikipedia informs me it is a region of saltmines. The story is about a missionary who has encountered a tribe of ‘savage people’, who cut out his tongue. He had gone to the desert people to take them the message of Christ, but, had been made to bow before their Fetish of a god, and was entrapped and beaten down.
‘What a jumble! What a jumble! I must tidy up my mind, Since they cut out my tongue, another tongue, it seems, has been wagging somewhere in my skull, somthing has been talking, or someone, that suddenly falls silent and then it all begins again – oh, I hear too many things, I never utter, what a jumble, and if I open my mouth it’s like pebbles rattling together.’ The Renegade, Albert Camus.
He ends up hating the people who had encouraged him to go out there, and wanting to prevent the humiliation of another missionary by intending to shoot him before he arrives in the city of salt. The entire story is unique, I have never read anything quite so extreme, and the only other author whose story The Immortals, Jorges Louis Borges, is there to make comparison.
And writing like this is something that belongs to deep felt emotion and experience.
‘Squatting, as I am today in the shelter of the rock and the fire above my head pierces the rock’s thickness, I spent several days within the dark of the House of the Fetish, somewhat higher than the others, surrounded by a wall of salt, but without windows, full of sparkling night. Several days, and I was given a basin of brackish water and some grain that was thrown to me the way that chickens are fed, I picked it up.’
Yes that is why I collected books! I think story telling is important, and all cultures tend to write or story tell, and that is true throughout history. If we as humans should stop, what would there be to hand to the next generation? And then that image of H. G. Wells out of the Time Machine, of spinning discs, and books that disintegrated, as the man from our age, sees the future, through his travel. The books had been archived, it would seem in a library rarely visited, as the future inhabitants had become slaves of the Morlocks. The Morlocks, looked like savage ape-men, with no hint of intellect left, who had become cannibals! That was Wells’s view of the post-nuclear war world. I see something different. And I hope for something different. We must make something different!