I’m a real sucker for charity shops, and Enniskillen in County Fermanagh has lots of them, each one a repository for students’ set texts and reference books at the end of the academic year. I find September and October to be particularly rewarding months, a time for harvesting the discarded but recyclable fruits of other folks’ pursuit of knowledge while making a small contribution to … well, whatever the charities do with their money: Enniskillen has an Oxfam shop, a Cancer Research shop, a British Heart Foundation shop, a Vincent de Paul shop, a Hospice Foundation shop, a Red Cross shop, and even a Presbyterian second-hand shop, among others. The prices of books vary, but most paperbacks will set you back 40 to 50 pence (or three for a pound), and a second-hand hardback rarely costs more than a couple of pounds. On this trip, I even found a hardback copy of Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man for a quid!
I arranged the display you see above (this month’s booty/bounty) on a purely practical basis, to fit the books into the photo, but I detect a distinct sociological/anthropological bias to the top row: The History of the Blues, by Francis Davis; Holy Warriors: A Journey into the Heart of Indian Fundamentalism, by Edna Fernandes; When We Began, There Were Witchmen: An Oral History from Mount Kenya, by Jeffrey A. Fadiman; and the aforementioned Bronowski book. They aren’t placed above the other works for any other reason, and yet I suspect that they will the main sources of inspiration for my writing. I read others’ novels in the hope of being surprised and, sometimes, on those rare occasions when I am surprised, it is to dissect the authors’ technique, to figure out how on earth they managed to surprise me. Of course, I also read for enjoyment, but since the main pleasure I derive from reading relates to being shown something new, to being both educated and entertained, it’s rare for a work of fiction to hold me in its spell for very long simply because the educative aspect soon falls away. Steve Aylett’s Bigot Hall managed it, for the most part, and a book I’ve just begun, Padrika Tarrant’s The Knife Drawer, holds great promise, but I know from past experience what I’m likely to get from Iain Banks, Martin Amis, and even William Golding (and I’ve already read the sequel to I am the Secret Footballer; I just want to fill in the gaps). Still, to my shame, I haven’t read any of the books shown above, even though Lord of the Flies was a set text for many of my peers and despite the fact that I already have a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (I think) somewhere around the apartment. Perhaps there will be something within that will grab me by the, erm, lapels, and never let go. I still haven’t lost hope.
Other books shown:
Other People, by Martin Amis
Wall Street Words, by David L. Scott
Young Men in Spats, by P. G. Wodehouse
Continental Drifter, by Tim Moore
A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, by Chris Stewart
The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
The Business, by Iain Banks