Saturday, 24 October 2009

The last bastion of snobbery

Sorry for the hiatus, everyone; I've been in France. (If you want to know why you can read my more domestic blog on

One morning while I was there I caught part of a TV book programme that practically made me want to emigrate. Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière were being interviewed about a book they had written together called N'espérez pas vous débarrasser des livres. My French is far from perfect but I did understand Professor Eco to say that if Robinson Crusoe had been stranded on his island with some form of e-reader, his battery would have run out within hours, whereas the Bible he had with him kept him going for 21 years!

So, I think these long-headed fellows were talking about the durability and other advantages of printed books over electronic ones. Anyway, it made me think of another advantage - or disadvantage, depending on your point of view.

How will you be able to judge the taste, education, enthusiasms and background of a person whose home you enter if the day ever comes when you can't browse their bookshelves? What will happen to judging a person by the books they keep? You can't very well ask to look at their Kindle index, can you?

If I see someone has a good set of obviously read Dickens, Austen, Trollope, say for starters, I know we'll have something to talk about. Likewise The Myth of the Goddess or If This is a man or If on a Winter's Night a Traveller ...or Ulysses (unread copies don't count) or lots of books on mythology.

If, on the other hand, it's all Dan Brown and Kate Mosse, I know that whatever else we might have in common, it won't be our taste in literature. And people can be so hard to read, I'll really miss that useful set of clues when all their choices are hidden inside an A5 sized machine with a battery.


catdownunder said...

You are so right! I should have read this before I wrote my own blog post for the day...for which I blame Nicola Morgan over on AnABBA.
Maybe, truly horrific thought, we will not be able to 'browse' in a bookshop either. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

You'd better come round and we'll see if we're at all incompatible. That copy of Ulysses is an embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

I meant either 'at all compatible' or if we're 'incompatible', but you understood that I hope... I also managed to misspell incompatible twice in two different ways. I'd better go and lie down.

adele said...

Quite right! In the immortal words of Anthony Powell: Books do furnish a room. Snooping on shelves of other people is the best fun ever and as you say, a good indication of all sorts of stuff.

Mary Hoffman said...

I hasten to say that shared literary tastes doesn't guarantee a good match and other things may override reading incompatibility. And some books are better than none.

And as for furnishing a room, Adèle, they were almost all the furnishings we had on setting out!

Anonymous said...

I've been in France.
Now, it's statements like this that make me cry. "Going to France" requires a lot of thought from my side of the globe. Totally jealous.

Mary Hoffman said...

Lynn, I COULD make it worse by telling you I HAD to go because my French publishers were paying!

I actually (blush, blush) won an award!

And if you do come over to the UK next year, you will find France but a hop across the channel - two and a quarter hours from London to Paris on the Eurostar train in fact, though that goes under the Channel.