DAY 2.7 Books

October 7th, 2019 § 0 comments


My migration, or hijra , to my present quarters took place about four years ago. And now I lie at night in a small, but entirely adequate flat (indeed, I can’t get up the stairs) with four fully filled bookshelves above my head. And I often wonder why the particular collection of books which also migrated and are now in that place came to occupy  it; They seem decidedly random, and some I don’t recognise  at all; while others are familiar old favourites, and many familiar old favourites are absent. Where is The Cat in the Hat? or To the Lighthouse? Or indeed, The Brothers Karamazov? How have I managed to spend four years in a house which seemed to have a library with so many gaps? There are, I estimate, a hundredweight of books whose provenance seems uncertain: at any moment they might decide (figuratively) to come crashing on my head in the middle of the night.

(I can’ t help being reminded of al-Jahiz, the notable defender of Africans and their intelligence,  who reputedly died just such a death in 868 (roughly) – but were they books or simply rolls  of parchment that fell on him ?) And my skull might be crushed by a book which I completely fail to recognise as mine – the biography of some dim Quaker member of my family, or an African militant text which (I have to assume) I acquired in the early sixties. Would that be a just recompense for my failure to be serious about the books in my life – and what would it be to be serious? There are any number of texts which teach you, if you apply yourself, to learn Arabic; thirty years have passed, the texts remain above my head  and I still can’t speak Arabic, or read the Qur’an. There are novels by black writers or scholarly studies of such novels – what a much better person I would be if I had taken the trouble to read them.

But I think I’m too old for such regrets, too old to wonder what would make me a much better person. The best I can do is to try and reach out in the middle of the night for some light reading, and find a back issue of Capital and Class. I start reading it and inevitably lose track of the argument halfway into the second page. The said argument is bound to lose me inevitably. What hope do I have, in the tangled web of cross teachings which we are increasingly encountering, of meeting  anything which I might recognise as true, when I can’t even discover how to paste a piece of music into a Facebook post.

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