Wheels in Motion I

The Bellini Card is at the printers in the UK. A fortnight ago, bound proofs arrived – looking very stylish. The cover was actually a black-and-white version of the glorious Technicolor cover that Faber have designed, but it looked terrific – and a lot sexier than the old plain pale blue covers which bound proofs used to have. Either way, it’s always rather exciting to have your book as a book. It reads differently, and I don’t know exactly why.

I’ve been to plenty of houses which have no books. I’ve met people who chuck books after they’ve read them, or give them away. I write this, and over the rim of my screen I can see at least a thousand books stacked in shelves, in no especial order. I could take you next door and show you several thousands more.

Now and then, Kate and I go through some of the shelves with a burning urge to get rid of at least a few ill-natured books we don’t like, books we’ll never read, really stupid books.

We last singled out – four.

Singled them out, forgot, and now, I think, they’re back in the shelves, or in a pile somewhere on the floor.

The truth is that every book tells a story. Sometimes wittingly,  sometimes – well, it’s a cover. A period of history. A memory. Or a hope – that someday something is going to sneak up and surprise you.

In the last two weeks: a book of photographs of the Ypres Salient, in World War I: photos of then, and now. Carnage, mud, a blasted tree, dead horses. The same view, in the 1970s: one of those calm French avenues of trees, with a 2CV motoring carelessly past sown fields.

A novel by John Cooper Powys called Wolf Solent, which I took on the plane to Istanbul and back (and my sister’s name scribbled in the front – how did that get here?).

Julia Pardoe’s Beauties of the Bosphorus – a recent treasure. Wonderful engravings of 1830s Istanbul, which you can also view at: www.htl-steyr.ac.at/~holz/pardoe/text_plate/001misspa.html

And The Bellini Card, in bound proof, slipping out of a Jiffy bag.

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