Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Season for stories

I've been asked to be a
book reviewer, and I've
been asked to be a book
writer, but I've never
been asked to be a book
seller. By all means it
calls for the highest
refinement of our more
admirable capacities,
and I think the tenden-
cy to test this postu-
late is at its most in-
tense in Advent because
of our heightened sen-
sitivity to the seduc-
tiveness of stories. To
gauge their comparative
power and appraise their
taste in means, for spe-
cific thirsting strangers 
is a gift, situating lit-
erature where it belongs,
and weaves a gratitude no
sommelier or tailor can a-
spire to. Now this Christ-
mas my bookseller reveal-
ed the reason for this to
me with stunning panache:
a tolerable progression
toward one's bethlehem of
knowing is the measure of
our pleasure. I demur from
any revelation's blazing
terminus, but I greatly
enjoy the journey, and its 
offer of becoming closer.

On the telephone with him
the other day, admitting
one was shopping only for
oneself, I requested four
or five diverse attrac-
tions from the shop's sea-
sonal list, balancing ex-
perience with a writer or
a subject with an assess-
ment of probabilities for
a "tolerable progression,"
interlaced with frames of
gastronomy and similar ar-

I then allowed, this would
all be fine with me, but
that I hadn't yet asked if
he thought I might be over-
looking something I should

Ah, yes. Well, he's an in-
teresting figure, Scott
Moncrieff, and there is a
fine study of him now -- .

And then, well, of course
he sounds a little familiar,
but in a way he isn't: Homer.

Gorging myself on chunks now 
of both recommendations, I'm
refreshed by pure generosity.
Here the character of lyric-
ism, itself, is approached
with a physical persistence,
revealed as a moral function.
I think if E.M. Forster had
been weaned from Cambridge,
he might have made a jour-
neyman bookseller. Possibly
this is what he's trying in
A Passage to India and How-
ard's End. He's asserting, 
with diffidence; he's meter-
ing out his invention to se-
cure a taste for it, not a 
habit. But the bookseller 
knows something that nobody
ever suspected of Forster, 
who never cared for teaching. 
He knows how I can be quieted.

Merry Christmas, in every-
one's own generous way.

Jean Findlay
Chasing Lost Time
  The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff
  Soldier, Spy and Translator
Chatto & Windus, 2014©

Adam Nicolson
The Mighty Dead
  Why Homer Matters
William Collins, 2014©

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