Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Tomorrow is World Book Day. This is definitely my kind of day. If I'd known about it on Monday I would have pledged to make it last the whole month of March. I might do that anyway. I've already started to plan my activities in earnest. My first task upon being clued in was to go through several fabulous piles of books that I'd stockpiled in my great Oxfam raids of 2007. I've picked out five favourite books to reread and five I'd forgotten I had. Senior moments are not necessarily always a bad thing. You can sometimes get new stuff without going anywhere or spending any money.
The whole idea has filled me with glee, not least of all because it's an internationally approved diversion from mowing the lawn. Mowing is a job I particularly hate but I almost knocked it over yesterday. It became mired in a complex ethical problem. I have just about got enough energy to mow my own lawn in summer. The problem was that my wonderful neighbours who are always doing super things for me including feeding me their delicious Italian food, have not been around for a month and their front lawn was about a foot high. I mowed my little front patch which made their vast expanse look a bit shabby by comparison. I figured since this was partly my fault and I rarely do anything nice for them, that I would mow it. But it was complicated and there were lots of shrubs which you need a special device for and I think I made it look worse. After that I was knackered and so was my cheap mower. Consequently most of my lawn isn't mowed. This is what in business would be called lose/lose. The way I look at it, I deserve at least a month of books, possibly longer.
The Independent has begun its celebrations by asking 100 authors to name their favourite fictional character. This kind of game almost restores the will to live. No great surprises. Jane Austen tops the tally with five nominations (Elizabeth Bennett, Elinor Dashwood, Emma, Anne Elliot and Mrs Norris from Mansfield Park. Dickens does well too, scoring a hat trick with Great Expectations (Pip, Joe Gargery and Miss Havisham). Joseph Heller gets the trifecta for Catch-22 (Yossarian, Dunbar and Milo). There are quite a few non-human nominations (Tin Tin, Bigwig from Watership Down, Toad of Toad Hall and The Cat in the Hat). Incredibly, five men picked female characters. Mme Bovary gets two votes. Molly and Leopold Bloom are both named. Michael Marshall picked God. Cute.
Quite a few of my favourites missed out. I would have at least considered:
Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
Vernon God Little
Jeanette from Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Dean Moriarty from On the Road
I certainly would have chosen Scarlett O'Hara over Rhett Butler and Anna Karenina over Oblonsky. It was nice to see Alexander Portnoy, Joseph K and Bathsheba Everdene in there.
My first favourite fictional character is Ignatius J Reilly, the disdainful, under-achieving curmudgeon of A Confederacy of Dunces whose prodigious neuroses and failings mirror our own worst fears about the purposelessness we just might represent if we dared take a dispassionate look at ourselves. It is a journey to the dark side of the soul gladly undertaken for its sheer mastery of wit. I will be taking that journey again with great delight very soon. Incredibly, this Pulitzer Prize winner was out of print for a number of years, at least in Britain where I was trying to get hold of it. Having lost my own copy, I relied on Hackney Library's for a quick reminder until it was cleverly stolen by someone who probably didn't appreciate it occasionally being borrowed. I wish I'd thought of that. Then it was sensibly reissued by Penguin and all was well with the world again.
How could anyone not love a character who says, 'every asylum in this nation is filled with poor souls who simply cannot stand lanolin, cellophane, plastic, television and subdivisions.' Amen to that.
I was wondering how World Book Day is being celebrated in Australia. It wasn't even mentioned on The Book Show. There isn't much going on here, effusions at Seat of Pants notwithstanding. Australia has a Book Week which as been extant since 1945. This does ring distant bells. I seem to remember a retort when I was a child that went, 'what do you think this is - Book Week?' This was usually in response to a perceived unreasonable request to a parent like, 'may I please stay up to watch Dragnet?' or 'would it be possible to have real peas instead of these odious things in a tin?'
Well, it's G&T time. In the words of Igatius J. Reilly, 'my system is petitioning for appeasement'.