The Book I’m Not Reading

text by Lacy Simons

It’s a terrible irony: now that I own a bookshop, I have a lot less time to read. At least that was the case in 2011, as I got the business off the ground; I hope that 2012 turns that around. Until that happens, though, I’m going to focus on what I’m not reading: books that have recently wormed their way on to my (always daunting, always epic) To Be Read list, many of which I have ferreted away in my workspace at the shop but have not yet been able to dive into with any regularity or sincerity. As a lover of used and new books alike, I’m fascinated with the trajectory of books in our lives, the how and where and why a copy of something falls into your hands, and as much as possible I’ll illuminate the roots of these neglected books. Pressed for time as I am, think of these as snapshots, or the gathering together of the threads that tie me to the book.

Mr. Fortune by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Read a bit about it while perusing a recent issue of The New York Review of Books, which a longtime customer has been supplying me with after he’s finished reading the issue. (Thanks, Jim!) Convinced by first line of publisher’s summary: “After a decade in one South Seas mission, a London bank-clerk-turned-minister sets his heart on serving a remote volcanic island.” (I’m a sucker for remote volcanic islands.) Author born 1893, died 1978, and by all accounts had a good run: she was a poet, short-story writer, and novelist, as well as an authority on early English music and a member of the Communist Party. (Rich material for a biography, that.) I’m not much of a John Updike fan, but he’s quoted in the introduction as saying that Warner had “the spiritual digestion of a goat,” and I kind of love that, even though I don’t yet know enough about her to know exactly what he intends. The intention must be good, though, because he followed it by saying she never quite won “the flaming place in the heavens of reputation that she deserved.”

Promising & (possibly unintentionally) hilarious random paragraph from page 103: And then one morning, when they had been living in the new hut for about six weeks, he woke up inspired. Why had he wasted so much time displaying his most trivial and uncompelling charms, opposing to the magnetism of death such fripperies and titbidts of this world, such gewgaws of civilisation as a path serpentining to a parrot-cote (a parrot-cote which hadn’t even allure the parrots), or a pocket magnifying-glass, while all the time he carried within him the inestimable treasures of intellectual enjoyment? Now he would pipe Lueli a tune worth dancing to, now he would open for him a new world. He would teach him mathematics.

Definition of “parrot-cote”: Google was inconclusive.
Dedication: I am greatly obliged to Mr. Victor Butler for his assistance in the geometrical passages, and for the definition of an umbrella.
Best sentence on page 43: “He had a peculiar affection for his lamp.”
Twenty-first word on page 44: wiles
Forty-fourth word on page 21: aristocrats