(Original Review, 2002-06-28)
I have some fairly handsome volumes on the shelves in my living room. I mentioned elsewhere that there are about 18 Brittanica "Great Books" mostly philosophy which I have read very little of but there is also some Ancient History which I have. They are quite nice looking (faux, I guess) leather bound, but the effect is rather spoiled by them having numbers on them - I guess so the buyers can tell how many of "the great books" they possess. This does mean that they sort of shout "philistine poser!" at visitors but fortunately, I don't get many.
I got them in a charity shop and I said above that they are handy for reference, but while I do consult them from time to time this is not really true anymore (though it was when I bought them) because they are pretty much all available online free now, often in more digestible translations and more readable format. They are far from useless, however, as I got a bad back recently and had to raise the level of my computer monitor. It is currently sitting on Aquinas vols I and II and Augustine. Most of the rest fall into the handsome but tatty category that I am sure is familiar to many here. Classics or favourites in decent hardback bindings from charity shops etc. I think this display only ever impressed one person. A young lad who was helping the guy who came to do the insulation. He said "you have a lot of books!"
There are about 100 on those shelves, most being upstairs, so this surprised me. But talking to him I found he had only really read one book, The Lord of the Rings which he liked so much he had started collecting different editions of it. I did offer to lend him some other fantasy books but he wouldn't take them. In a way it seemed a pity that he had got into books in such a strange, restricted way. But on the other hand he got his bibliophilic pleasure in his own way so... Anyway, the point is that my faux leather "great books" and tatty charity shop classics have only ever impressed a lad who had only read one book.
But it still counts, right?
Incidentally, there is a wonderful scene in Trollope's 'The Eustace Diamonds' where Lady Eustace is memorising a passage from Queen Mab, and the narrator comments that she hasn't yet learned to choose a passage from later on in a work because you don't get credit for a page further than the one you quote from. At one point, during the height of my passion for reading Anthony Trollope, I was in Paris for a few days and was quite happy to find a bookstore carrying books in English. We went in, but were unable to find any of his books. My wife asked a salesclerk if they had any Trollopes. The man replied, oh yes sir, the Trollopes are at the back. That sent me into fits of laughter, as it did seem appropriate the trollops would be kept at the back. My wife was not amused by it, and didn't see the humour until much later. And the bookstore? It was the Librairie Galignani, which was opened in Paris in 1801 as a bookstore and reading room specialising in works in English.
It's definitely time to re-read The Complete Palliser Novels of Anthony Trollope, I think. Better yet, once you get addicted to Trollope the only cure is to read all 47 novels, which I did. Some of the best are the Macdermots of Ballycloran, Nina Balatka, Marion Fay, the Bertrams, the Vicar of Bullhampton, Dr. Thorne, and John Caldigate. However, my best advice is to just read through the whole Barset-Palliser series in order. Taken as a whole, the series is in my mind the greatest achievement in all Victorian literature.