Thought for the Day – a rather rambling one, starting with Churchill on libraries

Nothing makes a man more reverent than a library’

– Winston Churchill

Not going to quite agree with this comment, which comes from an aside in a famous essay ol’ WSC wrote about his discovery of painting as a hobby.

I’ve loved libraries, certainly, ever since I ever discovered them when I was aged five (my first ever library book was Dr Seuss’s ‘Horton the Elephant Hatches an Egg’ from the Waiuku Public Library). (one further aside: you don’t want to see me at the business end of any sort of a paint brush. Not at least unless you’ve had a safe distance installed first).

But I can certainly think of plenty of things that have made me more reverent than libraries.

Pegasus Books off Cuba Mall, one recent summer...

Mostly nature, the outdoors, and so forth (see some of the pictures which adorn this publication)… there’s reverence, awe, and a sense of ineffable wonder.

But on libraries themselves…my main emotion I think has been hunger, a ravenous, at times slightly desperate intellectual appetite.

Tinged with a touch of awe, certainly, but that awe is secondary.

Besides, to me ‘reverence’ makes you hang back a bit. You don’t want to approach the alter with too much enthusiasm in church. You can never be too sure what the Divine Ironist has in mind – except it’s bound to be something you haven’t expected and that it’s bound to be a bit of a doozie.

In the case of libraries, I just want to get at ’em. Reverence is there but it skips, hand In hand, with a wide eyed, gleeful and – let’s be honest about it –a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm.

And yes, I suppose, the ultimate ‘kids skipping hand-in-hand with a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm’ were found in the first book of the Bible, where they fairly notoriously came a bit of a cropper.

After I left the home town as a teenager – especially when I moved to big places like Wellington- about the first thing I did was join any libraries going. In the case of Wellington, two whole, massive libraries – the Polytechnic library as well as the public libraries – were on tap.

Like the beer, only much much much better. And I didn’t actually need to deepen my voice to order books at the library, somehow it just felt as though ‘The Ginger Man required a deeper voice. And perhaps some facial fair.

These city libraries were places of awe, certainly. But more, they were places of a kind of desperate and slightly bewildered, unfocused hunger than of reverence.

There was so much there: so much to discover. And they were run by these helpful, but often daunting, highly educated and sophisticated people called librarians.

I has reverence and respect for librarians, certainly. Likethat started with the librarian who, back home, introduced me to this wondrous system called Interloan.

Being able to order up books from any library in the country was a breathtaking discovery. Used to go into the Waiuku library every second Friday after school: order up some book or books I’d discovered in a footnote or bibliography I’d found recently.

Let me at ’em!

Then as the year wore on, discovering second hand books stores, these inspired awe and reverence, joy and discovery.

Stairway in the magnificent old Hard To Find Books in Onehunga, a few years before the recent move.

Cheap books you could actually own!  Repositories of the worlds’ wisdoms and follies you could return to and scrawl disagreement in the margins!I actually dream about second hand bookshops. No exaggeration. Sometimes they are stores I have known: more frequently my dreams are some sort of combination of every second hand book shop I have ever known, plus an unconscious idealisation of what a perfectly arranged (and here I use the term ‘arranged’ loosely, if not wildly inaccurately) shop would be like.

I like to think of this as a kind of premonition of a heavenly afterlife – especially one which also comes with a well-stocked shelf of single malts. A a heavenly second hand bookshop should possess, as well as an endless stock of fine whiskies a proprietor who plays a genial, intelligent wry and witty guide and host ,with a gift for intelligent conversations.
It certainly beats bell out of other theories of the afterlife I’ve heard about. 
The best second hand bookstores I’ve known are organised, so you can find what you are after – but not too organised. An air of amiable, intelligent dishevelment should always be part of the mix.
The key thing – and I’m sure this is something second hand bookshop owners are often immensely frustrated about – is that such stores are only partly about selling.
Such establishments are more about the atmosphere- the ‘vibe’ if you like.
Like the quote from Churchill hints, they are about serving as a repository of knowledge, of wisdom and of folly, frequently at the same time.
Ok – to get back to Churchill- that it ties back to reverence,of a kind.
I think it shows an irreverent form of reverence.
The best kind, I feel.
Nothing should be too formal.
So, cheers, all. Here’s a glass of Glenmorangie, raised while reading Andrew Roberts’ recent biography of Churchill.
That should serve as a chaser to WSC’s own favourite, a flute of Pol Roger.

Thought of the day – on conservatism. How it should be.

‘Now, the disposition to be conservative in respect of politics reflects a quite different view of the activity of governing. The man of this disposition understands it to be the business of a government not to inflame passion and give it new objects to feed upon, but to inject into the activities of already too passionate men an ingredient of moderation; to restrain, to deflate, to pacify and to reconcile; not to stoke the fires of desire, but to damp them down. And all this, not because passion is vice and moderation virtue, but because moderation is indispensable if passionate men are to escape being locked in an encounter of mutual frustration.’

– Michael Oakeshott, from ‘On Being Conservative’. An important reminder for true conservatives, in today’s environment.

Just what conservatism is meant to be – an approach to political management and government which is focused on the calm solution of the inevitable difficulties and tensions of life – not of deliberately inflaming those difficulties and tensions for short term political advantage.

Reading – and how to do it wrong

IMG_7195Sometimes  you hear – or in this case, read –  something and just want to holler NO NO NO NO NO!

You want to take someone politely but firmly by the elbow,

or maybe their STUPID BLOODY THROAT,

take them gently to one side, sit them down, and talk gently to them about how they may have got things wrong or rather

HAVE MISSED THE ENTIRE BLOODY POINT.

In this case,  two things I have read over the past 48 hours which made me want to either give someone some kind words of advice

OR SLAP THEM AROUND THE BLOODY EARS.

And it is about reading.

The first was yet another one of those awful ‘One Thousand And One Books You Must Read Before They Haul You Off To the Undertakers And Start Making With the Formaldehyde’ lists.

I hate these, mostly because they are so damn bossy, and they have at their  root the notion that there is a class of books which are ‘essential’ to make you better as a person.

To which I politely beg to differ. Oh, and

BOLLOCKS TO THAT.

There needs, I think, to be lists of Books It Is OK To Hurl At The Wall Even If Your Cultured Friends Think This Makes You A Less Worthy Person.

I think I can claim to be a reasonably well-read sort of bloke, but a core part of my world view – in all spheres of life, and certainly those relating to personal taste –  is Each To Their Own.

I don’t, for example, think the fact I’ve never really “got” Jane Austen, despite having a reasonably determined crack at Pride and Prejudice back in my Uni days, makes me any less bloody cultured than those who do.

But if it rings your bell, go for your life.

The second thing which caused a bit of a spurt in the blood pressure department was something I saw on GoodReads yesterday which invited people to list the number of books they would like to read this year, as some sort of challenge.

And, again, NO NO NO.

Both these online missives make a similar mistake – even if this second one compounds that mistake with others.

Reading should never be a box-ticking exercise – in any way, shape or form.

Firstly, it is ok to not like books other many people think are great.

In fact, I think it is essential to not like books many other people think are great. It shows an independent mind, something any intelligent reader should possess and use with vigour, enthusiasm, and the occasional cry of THIS IS A LOAD OF ARSE.

And the books you do like, the ones that you will want to re-read later and will, each time you do, discover and delight in something you missed last time, will reflect – and possibly influence –  a mix of your own personality, your own circumstances, your own experiences of life and your own outlook on that life.

This will be a matter of quality, not quantity.

And above all, relax.

Book reading  – and yesterday, as noted earlier, was World Book Day – is not a syllabus nor an obstacle course.

It is one of life’s joys.

Don’t let anyone take that away.