Sir Ernest Barker, clearly part of “the establishment” if his Wikipedia entry is any guide, thought The Reader Over Your Shoulder is ‘a national service.’ Only a knight would judge a book on writing to be so. Actually a knight who was also a don at Oxford and a professor at Cambridge, which may or may not mean something other than the possibility that he had to support two opposing teams in the Boat Race. I wonder where his allegiance really lay? I digress however, evidence that I have purchased the correct book if my writing needs are to be met!
This particular volume has lurked in the shadowy recesses of my mind from goodness knows when. Chances are it was referred to by a frustrated English master, in his chalk dusted gown as he expressed deep exasperation at my poetic folly – he could barely believe I had attempted to write a poem as an exam piece from off the top of my head. I couldn’t believe it either when my 24% came back. The opening two lines parsed perfectly and they even set up a nice rhyming pattern. The subsequent 148 lines ploughed deeper and deeper into a pit of alphabet riven excrement into which I had no hope of extracting myself. Still, I remain proud of the fact that I had a crack at a poem in an HSC exam. You need to live on the edge a little.
Which was not where I was planning on taking this piece at all. (All the more reason for some Graves and Hodge guidance). I bought the book for I recognised it has been widely promoted as having merit. I also purchased it because Robert Graves is one of the most lyrical and moving English poets of the twentieth century. His power lies in the simplicity of the words he massages and arranges. It is power structured on the knowledge that he survived four years in Flanders trenches. But I really bought this book because it smells great!
My nose found a bookshop near here. It was about two weeks ago and I happened past a doorway opening to an ascending staircase down which dropped the musty scent of old books. I stopped and backtracked for I could smell old books but not see them – there was no downstairs shopfront. Upstairs was a shop selling antique books. You know, not those paperbacks purchased at airports or left over from Grade 9 English classes, but collections from old libraries in Toorak (or Oxford maybe!). Ingrained with a spicy, even peppery scent of yellowed paper and drawing room fires, drawn from straighter generations and slower times. It’s good to stop and fan the pages, bury your nose in the paper and inhale, for you just might catch something of those quainter qualities found in the times when it was published. I guess I had better read it as well.
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