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on the aisle

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Crowded bus on the way home last night and ended up sitting next to a young guy reading a proper novel. That is to say a yellowed Penguin paperback, something that’s been around for a bit. I have no doubt that “50p” was written in pencil on the inside front cover of the thing. Beautiful in its way.

One of the nice things about North London is that this sort of thing happens quite a bit. But whenever it does, last night included, I have a strange feeling. I try to glance over to the page, see if I can tell the text from the small sample available to me in the next seat. A character name, a recognized scene – even a sense that I recognize the style. And as I do, there’s that strange feeling again.

The closest that I can come to a clear description is that it is a proprietorial sense that I am having. This guy is, unknown to him, in my shop. I spend my entire life with these yellowing Penguins – marking exams, writing essays and lectures, working on my own stuff.

My father worked for a food company when I was growing up and whenever he and I were in the appropriate aisle of the supermarket, we’d stop and watch the customers as they negotiated the cookie and cracker aisle, see what they chose, what their kids wanted, what they lifted and put back and what they bought two of. Thankfully, this wasn’t some sort of marketing exercise – he wasn’t gathering intelligence. Rather, from what I can tell, he was enjoying watching people enjoy the fruits of his own labor – indirect labor, nearly as indirect as mine when it comes to the kid reading the paperback on the bus. The circuits that ran from his office work to the baked and packaged box of cookies on the shelf were nearly as complex as those that run from my teaching and newspaper writing to the novel purchased at the charity shop and read intently on the upper deck of the W3 in Finsbury Park.

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 22, 2010 at 2:58 am

Posted in literature, london

One Response

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  1. Funny – I have the same feeling. Nonetheless, the regular fare is running into a reader of Paulo Coelho. Never once saw someone reading Flaubert. Or DeLillo. Well – not even my students are reading them, anyway, so what am I hoping for from The Lay Reader I happen to find in a public transport?

    An aside is that a few days ago I had to consult my copy of Edel’s bio of James: five pocket books, a small box, Discus Press – 1978, I guess, much younger than me. These are books that were bought and kept for many years with much love – survived three marriages, more than ten houses, two countries, three states. But it has proved to be impossible for me to handle the dust, to negotiate the dust with my allergies. So I – who, like you, have spent “my entire life with these yellowing Penguins – marking exams, writing essays and lectures, working on my own stuff” – realized painfully that the yellowing pockets will have to go, and that I’ll have to buy a new, hardcover, acid-free paper copy of Edel.


    May 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

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