Meeting people who read ‘worthy’ books can be quite stimulating, albeit a little like a washing machine on too hot a setting. You shrink when you realise quite what an abyss there is between what you read and what they read. The trick is not to let on just how big the gap is.
The trouble is, I don’t have the gift of the gab. I can’t persuade people that I have read Milton, while making them feel ashamed because they haven’t. That sort of bluff is best left to Son.
I’m thinking here of my biannual meetings with Mr P Tuner. He reads. (As if it wasn’t enough that he has a perfect ear for music, and plays the piano very nicely, just like that, as if it’s not difficult at all.) It’s the Bookwitch Towers book room (aka the music room) that usually sets him off. He is under the impression that because we have lots of books, that he and I are similar.
Happily I’ve forgotten most of the worthy books he’s mentioned over the years. I doubt I’ve read a single one of them. Last year I gave him a list of what I read (best of), because he asked. When Mr Tuner called before Christmas he reported on having checked these suggestions out. Very decent of him.
Then he went on to tell me what he was engrossed in. Herodotus. Of course. And a little Edward Gibbon. Apparently his style is witty and modern. (I was once told that Pope was nice and light. I had to disagree.) Finally, for lighter moments Mr Tuner was reading Tolkien’s letters. (He’s never sent me any, so I haven’t.)
It really is fascinating quite how different we are. I might shrink temporarily when I have this kind of conversation, but for the most part I’m happy with what I read. If I weren’t, I’d change. I reckon it’s like with driving. If I suddenly felt the urge to drive a car, I would take lessons. Similarly, should Herodotus strike me as an essential read, I’ll go find him.
I have to say Herodotus seems a good sight more likely than the driving lessons…