Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The beautiful books.



The sun shone. All the daffodils are out now and the tiny new-born lambs are skipping in the fields, watched over by their serious mamas, and it feels as if spring is coming. The kind gentleman who has always tended my mother’s garden and who tends it still, as if in memory of her, looks up at the sky and says: ‘But they say another late snow is coming.’ This morning, snow feels far away.

The dogs splash in the burn; the little brown mare does polo turns and rodeo tricks by herself in her paddock; the red mare does a dreamy dressage canter with me on her back. Yesterday, I wrote 2951 words of secret project; today, there were another 1904. I am bash, bash, bashing away.

I spent yesterday among quite another kind of book. The dear Stepfather has been collecting books for thirty-five years. He once worked in the book trade, and he is a connoisseur of the first edition. He has first editions of Osbert Sitwell and Anthony Powell and other fine 20th century writers, but his great collection is of Evelyn Waugh. The funny thing is that Evelyn Waugh is one of the people who made me want to be a writer. I read Vile Bodies when I was sixteen, and I wanted to write a book exactly like that. Thirty-three years later, I stand in a sun-lit room, looking at a pristine first edition of that novel.

The collection is moving on now. It is going to be sold. The beautiful books, with their inscriptions in Waugh’s hand, and their book plates, and their provenance, will go on to delight other humans.

It’s a bittersweet moment. I’ve loved those books. Quite often, I make the dear Stepfather take one down from the shelf and tell me about it. I heft the lovely object in my hand and think of its history and admire its design. I was so used to going into the house and casting my happy eyes over that cabinet of delights.

Yesterday was our last day with them. We played with them like children, got them out and turned the leaves and exclaimed over them. ‘Tell me about this one again,’ I said. ‘And oh, look, this one.’

This morning, they are gone, on their long journey south. A nice young man with a beard came and packed them up and drove them away. There is a space in the cabinet, where all the glory used to sit.


They were only objects, after all. It is right that they go out into the world to give pleasure to others. But I shall miss them very much. It was a rare privilege to know them. 

1 comment:

  1. Such an occasion to be grateful for having 'known' them. Books like that are like great horses, beautiful land -- special things. You never really own them, you just care for them. But being allowed to do that is such a privilege. Lovely post.

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