The man and his son, maybe

A man and his son, maybe. I heard them talking together in Classics.

‘You have to be careful of the translation… I’ve got a rubbish translation that I picked up somewhere…’

The man speaking leaned in, hands clasped behind his back, reading titles closely. Peruse, sigh, agree, nod, frown, turn away, turn back, ‘Well I can’t see that without my glasses…’

His phone in his breast pocket gave away a small sound.

‘Is that yours?’ He called to the younger man in the next room.

‘No, it’s you.’

‘Probably something useless then.’ He fumbled with the phone, uncomfortable with its intrusive glass mouth. He held it close and read it slowly.

‘Oh, they’re waiting for us in the bakery. They’re on a table at the back.’

He put the phone away and drifted along the shelf once more. He picked up Saul Bellow and Balzac. He balanced paperbacks under one arm. He was adroit. His eyes were narrow with pleasure. The young man, his son maybe, came out with David Foster Wallace. His eyes were narrow with pleasure.

They browsed on. They did not go to the bakery .

Illustration by Andre Martins de Barros

The summer reading list

Your summer reading list should contain a dozen of the best books about the holiday season, relaxation, the summer, warmth, sunlight, wine, evening and song.

Actually this is rubbish. Your summer reading list is whatever you want to read. However, it should not be measured in numbers (of books). This is for the amateur. Real lists are measured in years. It should never be an achievable list (also for the amateurs). It should have a life of its own, way beyond your control and way ahead of you in knowing what you need.

A reading list is a priceless document. It should remain intact, unconquered, and be passed on to your children.

Reading in Winter

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Louis came back.

He wanted Marcel Proust, Alain de Botton, Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong and Saul Bellow.

Louis walks slowly but reads fast. He has parked some way down the street and later, I help him with the books, pack the shining bundles into the back seat with the old suitcase and the eggs. He says, thanks very much, indeed, yes, for the winter reading. I love winter, it’s for reading. I’ll get that Shakespeare out you know, it’s been put to the back again.

As though his library was alive and doing things behind his back. Which they do.

When he arrived, he had stopped at the counter and breathed deeply a few times. He always does this, he says it’s to get in the stride of things. Of reading, which is active, chaotic and shattering, especially if you read like Louis.

He says I talk too fast. When I said, here are the Primo Levis you wanted, he says, wait, which ones are they? I’ll tell you why I wanted these. He tells me a story of reading and love.

When I say, here is the Botton book you wanted (about Proust), he says, oh yes, now I need Proust of course. Wait, tell me more about Botton, is he Swiss or French? He sounds French. But I heard he is British. I heard he is amazing. Remind me.

He also reminds me not to talk too fast.

He wants to read about Gandhi. He wants the best biography there is. He says that biographers are artists, artists of the world, artist of us, we MUST consider them. He lists  all the biographies of Mahatma Gandhi he has already read. It sounds like all of them to me. But it isn’t. It isn’t enough: there is another. He holds out his hands, making a cradle that rocks gently, perfection.

I agree, I will find it. He says, there is always time.

Then, finally, he turns to go, but only after an interview that detailed Karen Armstrong, Elaine Pagels, (The Gnostic Gospels), A History of Water, who wrote that? Who wrote The History of Insanity? I saw it somewhere. Tell me about Barchester Towers, I saw it as a series, had the guy from Harry Potter in it, brilliant. Is it a series? I tell him it is, thousands of pages, a commitment, and Louis straightens up, tall with joy.

He will go home, lit with passion, for reading, for history, the earth, mistakes, insanity, water, salt and sand, Gandhi, why and when, how.