I’ve been hunting for books today, not in a shop or a market or even on the Internet, but here at home.
I was looking for my anthology of Dorothy Parker’s verses and short stories, and my collection of Ogden Nash’s poems. There were quotations by both versifiers that I wanted to track down…yes, I could have looked on the Internet, but I fancied browsing through the books themselves. They were not where they should be, with the other poetry books. And you know how it is, the more elusive something proves to be, the more desperately important it becomes to find it.
So I rooted around among all our bookshelves – and we have a lot of bookshelves – but in vain. I’ve mislaid both of them, probably lent them to somebody. If that somebody is reading this, could you let me have them back please?
Oh well, as Parker and Nash are long-time favourites, I can remember some gems. “One Perfect Rose” is among the best from Dorothy Parker, culminating in this perfect last verse:
“Why is it no-one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no. It’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.”
With Ogden Nash, (and did you know Nashville Tennessee is named after one of his ancestors, because I didn’t till recently,) it’s the short verses one tends to recall. “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” But I can remember a few bits and pieces from longer comic sagas, like the conclusion of his poem about Christopher Columbus:
“So Columbus said, Somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,
And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,
And the fetters gave him welts,
And they named America after somebody else,
So the sad fate of Columbus ought to be pointed out to every child and every voter,
Because it has a very important moral, which is, Don’t be a discoverer, be a promoter”
Having failed to find the titles I was hunting, I started dipping into some of my other favourite books that I encountered in my search: books I know I like, but haven’t in fact looked into for ages. It’s more than time I re-read some of them. Not straight away…I can’t just drop either of the two mysteries I’m reading at the minute. You shouldn’t ever drop any good story, and with a mystery it’s absolutely out of the question, you forget all the clues. But I must make a rule that every so often I turn aside from the quest for novelty, and look up an old friend.
Which old friend to start with? A collection of short stories? Some Sherlock Holmes, for instance, or some Kipling – I’m a devotee of both. No, I think I’ll begin with a novel, COLD COMFORT FARM, by Stella Gibbons. I couldn’t resist spending ten minutes looking through this, when needless to say I was supposed to be doing something else, and I shall certainly read it properly again very soon. If you’ve missed this 1930s comic masterpiece, do give it a try. You can discover why London girl-about-town Flora Poste descends on her rustic relatives, the Starkadders, on their Sussex farm…what she makes of cousins Seth and Reuben, the beautiful Elfine, the alarming Aunt Ada Doom…what happens to Meriam the hired girl every time the sukebind begins to bloom…and how Flora finally brings order to the chaos of Cold Comfort Farm. I’ll be astonished if you haven’t laughed inwardly, or even out loud, by the time you reach the end.
Can anyone else recommend an old favourite book that they plan to re-visit? Try hunting through your bookshelves…I bet you’ll soon discover one.