Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The battle of the books

Being a fully rounded individual, particularly in the stomach and backside area, I find myself interested in a myriad of vastly different subjects, ranging from lighthouses to poetry and from League of Ireland football to astronomy. When I finally retire, there is no danger of me sitting around the house bored all day, while my wife tuts impatiently and tells me to lift my feet.
There is however one area of my multi-faceted life that I have shamefully neglected in recent years - reading. I am a staunch believer in the importance of reading widely, yet I am an extraordinarily slow reader. I started a book last Christmas – it was a blue one – and I am still only a quarter of the way through it. God knows what it’s about.
My problem is that I only find the time to read when I’m in bed. And, being a man of extraordinary virtue and a clear conscience – as I tell my insomniac wife - the moment I begin to read I fall asleep.
Of course I have a bookcase full of books that I am looking forward to reading when I get the time but, short of spending several weeks with my leg in plaster like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, that day, like full employment and Brian Lenihan abolishing income tax, seems a long way off.
I do however love a bargain and, although sad for the staff at Borders, who were always very accommodating when the Dublin 15 Writers Group met there, the announcement of their massive closing down sale infused me with a sense of excitement at the thoughts of gaining some valuable additions to my bookcase.
Somehow I managed to persuade my daughter to come along on the expedition, even though it is decidedly uncool to be seen out with me. My wife doesn’t really understand the concept of bookshops, being a true library aficionado. I would be too, but any savings I made would be automatically negated by the fines imposed when I returned the book three years later.
Unable to get anywhere near the store itself due to the heavy volumes of traffic, we parked in the green car park and made our way excitedly over, passing a constant stream of refugees laden down with their literary possessions as we did so. Nearing the store itself, we noticed a breathless Charlie Bird in combat fatigues, telling a television camera about the carnage inside.
The entrance to the shop was blocked by a mill of people fighting to get in, while a corresponding amount of people clutching ripped paperbacks and bruised cheekbones fought to escape. It was time for a strategy. “I’ll go for books, you go for CDs and DVDs,” I said. We shook hands formally and wished each other Good Luck before plunging into the fray.
Squeezing and jostling, I managed to make my way to the first table, which was completely empty, save for two middle-aged ladies sprawled over it in mortal hand to hand combat. One of them had a copy of Cecilia Aherne’s latest held above her head, while the other was trying to prise it from her grasp.
I ploughed on, eventually coming to a seemingly impenetrable wall of backs at the fiction shelves. With brilliant tactical nous, I shouted over to an imaginary friend, “Get the signed copy of the latest Harry Potter book over there!” All heads turned and I managed to slip through the outer ring of combat and into the melee of wild-eyed parents battling over the few remaining school books.
Putting it simply, it was a battle zone. Blood, hair and teeth besmirching ripped copies of Fiúntas 2 and Hörschatz littered the floor like shrapnel, while bodies were flying about like cowboys in a bar-room brawl. Children cowered in terror while grown women slugged it out over bloodstained copies of Philadelphia Here I Come. Never were the poets in Poetry Now so sought after in that maelstrom of kicking and gouging. I was sorely tempted when I spotted a relatively unscathed copy of Leaving Cert Biology on the floor but a large woman dived on top of it as I dithered and I decided discretion was the better part of valour and crawled off on all fours in the vague direction of the poetry section.
Suffering only superficial bruising I made it to my goal. On the way, I managed to secure an English-Spanish dictionary that had been knocked out of someone’s hand. A quick glance at the synopsis on the back didn’t give me any great confidence in the substance of the story but I thought it might be a good read if I ended up in hospital, so I stuffed it down my shirt and ploughed on.
In the poetry section, it was quiet. Too quiet, I thought. People were standing around reading sonnets and eying each other nervously. An air of tension hung over the shelves like gun smoke and several people nervously fingered their Nokias and Erikssons. The phoney war, I thought, picking up a copy of Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle from the shelves and pretending to understand the metaphors.
Then it happened. A tweed-clad man let slip the last edition of Pat Ingoldsby’s latest book from under his elbow. It was snatched up by a young girl but as she turned to run, the man rugby tackled her from behind. He was promptly smacked over the head with a hard cover copy of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the girl’s mother, causing him to drop his entire collection on the floor.
The resulting rolling maul wouldn’t have been out of place at the Parc des Princes. Several people were cited for gouging and I, waiting in the sidelines like a scrumhalf to pick up the pieces, saw one particularly unmentionable act involving Thomas Mann that I will bring to the grave. Wielding the Complete Works of John Betjeman, I beat my way out of the shop, only flinging it back into the carnage (with my Spanish dictionary) when I staggered out of the door, my clothing in tatters.
I crawled up to Lidl, where I found my daughter sitting on the kerb, applying a hastily purchased German sausage to her eye. We hugged and vowed we’d never have an angry word again.
“Did you get anything?” she said at last. I shook my head sadly.
In reply she slowly pulled a CD case out of the waistband of her torn skirt. I stared at it unblinking for a while as the sheer enormity of her purchase sank home.
“Dad, I’m sorry, it was all I could get” she said, putting an arm around my shoulders as the tears trickled down my face, Lionel Ritchie’s Greatest Hits falling from my fingers into the gutter.