Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

Some books I didn’t leave behind a second time

I spent an afternoon 2½ years ago in my sister’s attic near Toulouse, deciding which of the books I had left there 9 years earlier I wanted to take back to Ireland and which I was prepared to abandon forever. The second group was much the larger, and I told my sister that she was welcome to do whatever she liked with them. Towards the end of last year, she let me know that they were still there, so I decided to go back and take a second bite at the cherry. Partly because of Talk about books, my priorities had changed: there were several books that I had been happy to leave behind before but that I now thought would be worth keeping after all. This time, I’d spend more than an afternoon going through the pile. I went for a week’s visit.

I quickly confirmed my suspicion that I had missed a box last time. Several books turned up that I had failed to find in 2020: my paperback copy of Ulysses, the first two of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, Candia McWilliam’s three novels, Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, Dibdin’s Dead Lagoon (which I had since replaced while writing about his Aurelio Zen series). I packed all of these. As I was inevitably going to take Ulysses, I decided that A Portrait of the Artist should come too, though I had intentionally left it behind the previous time.

But if I had found the box that was missing the first time, it seemed that a different one was eluding me now. I couldn’t find the Richard Tuck edition of Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace though I’m quite sure I’d seen the 3 hefty volumes when I was last there. If I had found them, would I have wanted to keep them? On the one hand, they had been quite expensive; on the other, I could probably get along without them very well. As it turns out, I don’t need to make up my mind about that.

In 2020, I had brought back only one Wilkie Collins, namely Armadale. This time, I added Basil, The Law and the Lady and The Moonstone; but where were No Name and The Woman in White? I had decided beforehand that I was going to take most of the Penguin Classics and Oxford World Classics that I’d come across, particularly if they were from the 19th century. So I got a few by Dickens and Austen: Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend and (I think — it certainly should have been there) Bleak House; Emma and Persuasion and (almost certainly) Pride and Prejudice.

There was no Hardy, though I had been expecting to find a copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles at least. Something else I had been expecting to see but didn’t was the Penguin Classics Tristram Shandy introduced by Christopher Ricks. I’ve never got very far into it before, but I think I might be ready for it now. Oh, well.

I knew in advance that I wasn’t going to want any Lawrence. Nor did I pack any Conrad (where was Nostromo?) or (as far as I can remember) Woolf; and the only Kipling I took was Plain Tales from the Hills, though I hesitated over Kim. (The Penguin Modern Classics covers are hard to resist.)

Last time, I had been glad to recover William Empson’s Collected Poems but had deliberately restricted myself to two volumes of his criticism, Seven Types of Ambiguity and Milton’s God. (I already had Using Biography in Ireland.) This time around, I put aside all the others I could find, intending to go through them to see if there was anything I couldn’t bear to be without. In the end, I didn’t bother to go through them, but packed them all: Some Versions of Pastoral, The Structure of Complex Words, Argufying and the first volume of Essays on Renaissance Literature. The second volume of Essays on Renaissance Literature must be in the “missing” box.

There were a few other individual books that I had specifically decided against taking last time, and about which I had second thoughts: Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth being the most obvious examples. I had taken everything else by McEwan that I could find, so so it seemed a bit odd not to take Atonement too.

The books are in 4 small boxes under a table in my sister’s séjour, awaiting collection (with a 5th full of CDs). They ought (among other things), to fuel Talk about books for some time to come.

Posted by Art on 23-Apr-2023.