The Burden of the Bookish

I have rid myself of most addictions, but still one persists. Sadly,in my weakness, I believe I will never shun it, due to it being the result of both nature and nurture. It has ramifications on health and can put great emotional strain on relationships. However hard I try, I cannot stop buying books. Each jab or vibration of sciatica is a reminder of its risk. Each stooped and spine arched pensioner a warning of what is to come if I don’t stop entering every charity shop for “just the one”. It is never just the one. While heroin or booze might annoy my wife, especially if I didn’t tidy up after myself, at least either of them, or both, would take up less space. No longer drinking alcohol or smoking, the smell of fumes and stale alcohol doesn’t mask the aroma of books, wherever I secrete them.

How did today’s biblio debauchery begin?

I spent the morning attempting to turn 12,000 words of Simon Singh and I talking, into 1000 words cohesive enough for the readers of Libertine magazine. This was no scalpel precision but mad axe bludgeoning of sentences, paragraphs and pages. I was not an editor, I was a berserker. 

Being in Eastbourne, and having a day that gave me room to gasp, I wandered into the town centre for cake and tea (I recommend Bumper Books for Boys and Girls. Their Victorian Sandwich cake is not to die for, but its buttery sugary sponge-y deliciousness may kill you in the end). I was reminded that Joanna Neary had warned me an of ex-library book bookshop in Eastbourne’s public library. 

I was right beside it. 

So I popped in.

Just for a browse.

A couple of interesting looking books, including Stuart Christie’s Granny Made Me an Anarchist. Despite doing gigs for Lewisham anarchists in the 90s, I didn’t know much about them. 

Maybe I needed it. 

No no, not yet. 

I should move on. 

Barely in the door of the Oxfam Bookshop, I saw Teach Yourself Postmodernism. I should teach myself that, it could come in handy whenever I tilt my head to the left opposite a collage and say something that means less than I realise.

All was quite amongst the history and fiction shelves. I don’t bother with sport, I have the three books I need on that – two books of John Arlott and a Jimmy White autobiography.

Browsing a long the World Religions section, i see three Richard Dawkins books, none are The God Delusion. I hope that doesn’t start to give him a messiah complex. First along the Academic section, which is not really academic, but science, psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy and some that should really be self-help, is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I remember the copy I have at home is not mine, and so I have been unable to scar it with annotations, confused questions to myself and underlinings. This one will fulfill that purpose. 

Then, Edward T Hall’s The Silent Language – “an anthropologist reveals how we communicate by our manners and behaviour” – now that is definitely something I need to know about, there could be a show in it. 

And Magic, Science and Religion and other essays by Bronislaw Malinowski, that could have some rich morsel ripe for the spinning in some fringe show or other, and if it is no use, I can always pass it on to Alan Moore. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius? I am sure I will get around to reading that, and if not, it matches all the other Penguin Classics I haven’t read that look nice in a row. 

Oh no, a so many books on the pound shelf. I don’t have River out of Eden in hardback, and I must find out more about The Death of Christian Britain, and that Howard Gardner book on the mind might help with developing my current show. I realise I have 207 notes, and my first warm up shows were two hours if I ignored nearly all of them, but maybe this will be the book that provides a perfect clear line that will run through that tour show that really will be 90 minutes like it says on the theatre websites. 

I take the stack to the cashier. He is mulling over 7 inch single of Baa Baa Black Sheep that suggests, from its cover art, that it is recorded using real sheep.

The till goes awry and I let someone go ahead of me as they only have one book and they are in a rush. They say, on the cusp of impoliteness, that they would never have picked the book from the shelf had they known there was a man at the counter with such a stack of books. Are they barely masking their disgust?

In the time this transaction takes, I notice a Film Genre Reader that discusses David Cronenberg. I better get that too. 

I eat my Victoria Sponge cake leafing through this new gathering of books. My spine feels psychosomatic bruising.

Oh, there is a Red Cross Shop on the way back. Well, everyone tells me Caitlin Moran’s Moranthology is worth reading.

“you do know you can get another book free?”

“oh no, no thank you”

By the time I am back at The Lamb Inn, Granny Made me an Anarchist is in my bag too.

Another day done. No bookshops tomorrow. Work out a route to Cambridge that avoids them. I think I can do. Yes, tomorrow, I can do it. 

I am on tour with a new show – Falmouth, Norwich, Sheffield, Nottingham, Salford, London, Bristol and a town near you. All details HERE 

Cosmic Genome app has further updates from Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Alice Roberts and many more HERE 

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12 Responses to The Burden of the Bookish

  1. Inga says:

    Beautiful. You really painted a picture with this one. I was practically following you around the shop(s) scanning the shelves. 🙂

  2. loved this blog, love people who love books – booklovers are a rarity in a world where books are fast becoming obsolete, being replaced by flickering screens and electronic noise that zap your energy and give you headaches. I can sit in my garden and read a book in full sunlight – try that with your stupid Kindle. Books do not need to be replaced with the latest “model”, books do not need to be constantly re-charged, they come to you fully formed and last a lifetime or more…

    • Scurra says:

      Actually you can do that with your Kindle. It’s the stupid backlit devices that are the problem – smartphones, tablets and, worst of all, the Kindle Fire, which really shouldn’t have been called a Kindle at all.
      I regret that eInk devices (like the Kindle and the Kobo) are in danger of being nothing more than a passing fad; they are so much better than that. (Plus they only need recharging about once a month – try that with your iPad.)
      Not that I don’t agree with you: books are the superior device in almost every way. But I won’t casually dump all electronic reading devices into the same fiery pit.

  3. John Morhall says:

    I believe that the addiction is incurable. I was in those same bookstores earlier this year when I made my annual pilgrimage to Eastbourne where I sort of grew up. the only thing that stopped me buying more was my domestic financial advisor reminding me that there were limits on luggage allowance back to Singapore. I ended up with an anthology of poems of World War 1, and yet another Edward Fitzgerald Omar Khayyam. A delightful memory, thanks for sharing!

  4. ankee says:

    I love books and I love knitting. Bad combo for my spine. But now that I make deals with myself that I will do my daily 10K steps and go dancing a couple of times per week, my spine is much happier with me.

  5. Penny says:

    Delightful. Thanks. Especially the part about the Penguin Classics that look nice in a row. I have the very same row. Love books.

  6. Alan says:

    Hi Robin

    I have one nitpicking comment that I hope you’ll find constructive. Every now and again you misuse ‘X and I’ when you should be using ‘X and me’. To summarise briefly – if you would have used ‘we’, then use ‘X and I’, but if ”us’, then ‘X and me’.

    (I’ll appeal to authority by adding this link: )

    I know it’s a very minor nitpick, but for me it’s a slightly uneven paving slab on the path to wisdom.

    Thank you for your thoughtful posts anyway.

  7. Tony Pedley says:

    Maybe we should setup a support group, Book buyers anonymous.

    “Hi I’m John and it’s been 4 days since I bought my last book.” “I realised I had to get help when my wife found me hiding a copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach within a copy of Razzle and found out I had been spending my evenings in the library rather than in Spearmint Rhino like I had told her”

  8. Great writing! I really feel for you. At least the majority of our multitudinous literary purchases are delivered mail order. The main threat to my back is from having to put up more shelves… 😉

  9. Emily Heath says:

    In my little flat there is no more room for books. What I now do is borrow from the library or give some away at Christmas to make space for more. I dream of having my own library, wall to wall books with comfy armchairs to sink into and south facing so that light would stream in. My cat and I would sit together as I read, sipping tea and eating a crumpet occasionallyp. How many bookcases do you have?

  10. Its not so much the buying of them but the room they take up. I also have a bad habit of piling them up on the bedside table in the order I want to read them, and rushing through the book I’m currently on to get to the book i know is coming next! Daft.

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