You should know me by now, you’ll know I don’t usually like book tagging, in fact I don’t usually do tags. Specifically, I don’t do the kind of tags which pose all kinds of impertinent questions, almost up to but not quite asking “What is your PIN number?” (Don’t get me started on the tautology involved in that last phrase.)
But when, under the tag Good to Meetcha, Bookforager posted some quirky questions which I found strangely pertinent I was, dear Reader, extremely tempted. In fact I went further and swallowed the hook, the line and the veritable sinker.
I hate the usual “what do you do?” and “where are you from?” questions that normally get fired out upon making a new acquaintance. The answers invariably fail to give me any sense of the person I’m talking to, and feel … judge-y. So this tag is about the things I actually want to know when I first meet a new person (specifically, the ones I want to be friends with).Bookforager, ‘Fun for Monday‘
How could I resist? More to the point, how can anyone resist such an inviting preamble?
1. What’s that in your bag / pockets?
I shall resist the urge to hiss Preciousss, along with the expected litany listing keys, phone, wallet, cards etc, and instead note the more unexpected items in the bagging area, er, I mean man-bag — a trusty black backpack. Item: one bland letter from our Tory MP in reply to an earlier howl of anger and disappointment, to which I mentally draft suitable and unsuitable responses. Items: pens, pencils, sellotape and other small stationery objects, a tie-over from my previous incarnation as a teacher. Item: a packet of anti-fogging cleaning wipes for my glasses when I’m wearing a mask, and a sign o’ the times.
2. Do you keep a notebook, and what do you keep in it?
Yes, in fact I keep several, the majority with notes on books I’m reading, along with one pocket book in which I jot down memories of childhood incidents in preparation for the memoir I’m currently writing for our children and grandchildren.
3. What’s one book you recommend remorselessly to anyone who’ll listen?
Currently that will, without a shadow of a doubt, be Susanna Clarke’s captivating novel Piranesi, the worth of which has been confirmed by it recently receiving the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Have you read it yet? If not, why not?
4. Tell a funny story about yourself and books.
Like many a prolific young bookworm I got mercilessly and, it felt at the time, cruelly teased by my parents for mispronouncing words I’d read, such as ‘causial’ for ‘casual’. I got the last laugh though from the meme shown above now going the rounds. (It still hurts though, that laughter.)
5. Do you have any favourite words?
Verisimilitude. Synchronicity. Facsimile. Serendipity. Veracity. Indubitably. Synecdoche. Paradigm. Eucatastrophe. Et cetera. Sic. (I learned all these, and more, from reading voraciously … even if, when I should have written There was dissention in the ranks for a History essay, I substituted the word dysentery — “this is a nasty disease,” as my teacher wrote in red.) I’m currently reading The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams which may well furnish me with a few more favourite words…
6. What’s a favourite book from childhood?
Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies: a Fairy Tale for Land Babies, first in a condensed version, then with all the Rabelaisian lists and unexpected digressions when the author got onto his favourite hobbyhorses. A curious and haunting work about Tom the water-baby which has obsessed me ever since.
7. Do you like the smell of books?
Well, duh. If the implication is, Do you like the sensual aspect of physical books? then the answer is a less sarcastic and more wholehearted Yes!
8. What’s the weirdest book you’ve ever read?
In many years of studying many aspects of King Arthur, the Grail and related areas, I’ve come across several books that have involved the needless destruction of woodland tracts and the unwilling suspension of disbelief through the promulgation of ‘alternative facts’, faulty logic and messianic pretensions. I’ll mention just one example: The Holy Kingdom, a blistering review of which I entitled ‘Unreadable Nonsense’. This is a post which continues to regularly receive daily views (over 1500 in total) since I published it a year ago; it occasionally even attracts illiterate, often abusive, responses. That such farragos of fakery are published by mainstream publishers is what I find especially weird, followed by the cohorts of rabid supporters who think “there must be something in it.” No, there ain’t.
9. How do you feel about dragons?
When I’m not channelling a unicorn I’m rather partial to a dragon or two; in fact I’ve been gradually putting together a post or two about dragons in general and literary dragons in particular. But I confess to being a bit pernicketty about their nature and appearance. Shown above, Jenny Williams’s pop art dragon for Margaret Mahy’s The Lion in the Meadow, for example, is magnificently imaginative — even imaginatively magnificent! — but it bothers me that like many of its fictional relations it has six limbs. Six! Let that sink in. I much prefer the winged bipedal dragon known as the wyvern, in Welsh gwiber, both ultimately derived from the Latin vipera meaning of course a poisonous snake; the wyvern has wings for forelimbs but the usual number of back legs: two, perambulating, for the purpose of. Expect more guff on this and other composite beasties in those future posts!
10. What are you looking forward to right now?
Such a big question! Here’s a provisional list.
- The end of fake news and the return of rational discourse, compassion for others and care for nature, environment, the planet and everything, the realisation that extreme politicians are playing us for fools and… Oh, is this not what you meant?
- For time to stop or at least slow down so I can read the humungous piles of unread novels, write the books I want to write, see relatives and friends with… Oh, again, not quite this?
- Okay, let’s keep it simple: I’m looking forward to live classical concerts, live performing — things are opening up in Wales steadily (if people are sensible) — and I’ve really missed singing, accompanying on the piano, playing orchestral piano for Cardiff Philharmonic, and so on. Music, as much as are books, is my spiritual life blood and the last eighteen months have been a kind of limbo for me, and for far too many of us. Thankfully I’ve already had a couple of gigs, and that’s a start.
- Finally I’m most looking forward to other bloggers’ takes — yours perhaps as well? — on Bookforager’s questions, possibly revelatory but hopefully fun. As Bookforager says, it’d be good to meetcha!
Today is a special day, the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere and the spring equivalent in the southern. The equinoxes and the solstices have been celebrated in many cultures as times of transition and change, with celebrations of one sort or another to mark them.
In medieval Europe the nearest big religious feast was Michaelmas on 29th September, marking the last opportunity to harvest crops; it was also a ‘quarter day’ when workers were paid off, new workers were hired and university terms began. So my greeting to you is Happy Equinox!