I Browse Until My Mind Turns Blue (a perilous expedition to Hay approaches)

I am off to Hay-on-Wye, the bibliosexual’s lurid playground, where all is books.

A land of myopia and paper cuts. 

I have a few hours until departure, and I am currently deluding myself that I can get through 24 hours there without purchasing a book. Could such fresh hell be possible?

Unfortunately, I have been away from home for a couple of days, and Worcester and Reading have charity shops that furnished me with ample rewards. Rational mind wakes every day and, after thinking about death for the first few minutes, it’s habitual, imagines a day in a strange town where I won’t occupy my time investigating streets for charity shops and book palaces. I knew, long ago now, that I have more books than I can finish in my lifetime.

In my dreams and occasional hallucinations, I imagine finding a system where I can use my left eye to read one book, my right eye can read another, while both hands make notes on the lined pads that occupy the space either side of me. I adore reading. I must start my day with some, and finish the night with another chapter or two. Some days, I spend more time browsing than reading. While others wish to explore swamps or climb mountains in search of kicks, the shelves of AGE UK offers me my adrenalin kicks.

Browsing is suspense. Browsing is potential. Browsing is the dream of new knowledge and understanding waiting behind some of those spines (too damn many of those spines).

Today, starting at the Oxfam in Worcester and ending at the British Heart Foundation in Reading, there was too much.

My alibi is that each one might hold a sentence or concept, or contain a photo, that will, at most, lead to a knew way of thinking about humanity and the universe or, at the least, lead to a new idea for a joke or something to make melodramatic or preposterous in the spotlight.

The first book grabbed as Nature’s Mind by Michael Gazzaniga (“ah, I am doing a new show about the mind for Edinburgh, so I’ll need that”.) Then, it was Freeman Dyson’s Imaginary Worlds. (“ah, in the book I am planning I am thinking of having something about the future as foretold by science fiction”) That was followed by three Doctor Who books, all by Jean-Marc Lofficier, the lure here was a mix of nostalgia and a plan that his “the universe’s history as told by Doctor Who may come in useful for errrr… another show I haven’t really thought of yet”)

Once in Reading, it was to Oxfam for –

Maggi Hambling’s guide to painting Max Wall (will give me ideas of faces to pull on stage and images of melancholy near herons for my old age)

Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake’s Railway Safety pamphlet (who doesn’t need more Quentin Blake and more railway safety ideas)

a Taschen book of Erotic Art (Even at 45, I was a little hesitant taking this to the told lady at the counter, “will she judge me? should I say ‘oh yes, I know art, it is the images of arses by Grosz that I am buying it for. Doesn’t Robert Mapplethorpe light cocks well”.)

Edmund Leach’s Reith Lectures (I liked one of the chapter titles and imagined using it in an argument with Prof Cox)

An Oxford Short Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (to arm myself for the next attack on Twitter by some antsy philosophers. I’ll be ready, even if I don’t understand all the words you use)

And Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis (I haven’t got all worked out about how myth can fuel dogma for ages. Maybe I need to read some Cristina Odone again, well, when that bloodied patch on my scalp where I tore my hair out grows back)

The British Heart Foundation for George Carlin’s Last Words (if you don’t know why, don’t ask…actually, do. Because he was a great stand up, and an incisive thinker on what stand up could be). Then, a long bath and a chapter of each of them, and now my mind swims with ideas, some of which I can’t quite reach, some which I can’t yet see, but I know they are there. So, no books at Hay…well, maybe a quick look…for a gift for someone…not for me…oh dear, what’s that that just caught my eye…

Postscript: Remarkably, I have done it. I browsed the shops of Hay and came away with nothing. This may be due to the enormous number of possibilities. There are so many books that one doesn’t fall into the Hardback Hunter/Paperback forager frame of mind that insists, “I must spear this book now, and have it mounted on my shelf, for it will never be seen again”. I nearly bought a book by Melanie Phillips, The Sex Change Society” Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male, but I thought, why purchase unhappiness when it is so easy to stumble upon.

I am touring and touring and touring, Hay Festival forthwith, then Swindon, Hull, Leeds, York, Newcastle, Glasgow, Salford, Edinburgh and on and on to a town near you. Details HERE


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2 Responses to I Browse Until My Mind Turns Blue (a perilous expedition to Hay approaches)

  1. mgshersby says:

    Very well said. Browsing is just so deliciously gratifying. I managed to avoid buying any books in Waterstones, but my resistance crumbled at the charity shops where I bought 6 books (for only £5.25!). 6 books that I don’t actually need because I’ve got hundreds of books at home, I’m a prolific user of the public library and I also have many ebooks! But I couldn’t help myself. Mind you, I don’t mind it, being a bookworm means that I’m never bored!

  2. jtweedie says:

    I remember my first time in the Natural History Museum’s bookshop. As if the museum itself wasn’t one of the most amazing places on Earth, I was surrounded by an amazing choice of books. Luckily I had to think of the size of my rucksack and that I had to get the train back to Glasgow, so that tempered my choices.

    On my second visit, I had a feeling that the bookshop had gotten smaller – maybe my memory was playing tricks, but it didn’t look half as impressive – there were loads more toys though!

    The references section of a great, inspiring book is also a dangerous place, so many paths and avenues to lead you astray! Although you know you’re obsessed by a particular field when you go through the references and go “got, got, got, ordered, got”.

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