For many years I swore I would never begin a new book without finishing the last. For some reason, my adherence to this rule came loose round about a year ago. It was probably the iPad’s fault, and more specifically a book that was too heavy (mass and subject matter both) for reading in bed.
Two media makes two books too easy, and it’s a slippery slope from there on. Since then, as now, I have several on the go. In addition to Obama 08 campaign manager David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win, at the moment I’m reading (on my new train journeys from Swindon to London and back) Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, and when I get home: Bernard Crick’s bio of George Orwell, and – free on the iPad – the first on my Dickens odyssey.
One of the problems with reading Dickens, I suspect, is that it makes one painfully aware of how little in the world – fictive or otherwise – is new.
Take this, for example, from chapter thirteen of The Pickwick Papers, where Mr. Pickwick and comrades venture into the middle of an election day bunfight that, in its use of the Victorian equivalent of bumper stickers and t-shirts, feels surprisingly familiar:
‘We are pretty confident, though,’ said Mr. Perker, sinking his voice almost to a whisper. ‘We had a little tea-party here, last night—five-and-forty women, my dear sir—and gave every one of ’em a green parasol when she went away.’
‘A parasol!’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Fact, my dear Sir, fact. Five-and-forty green parasols, at seven and sixpence a-piece. All women like finery—extraordinary the effect of those parasols. Secured all their husbands, and half their brothers—beats stockings, and flannel, and all that sort of thing hollow. My idea, my dear Sir, entirely. Hail, rain, or sunshine, you can’t walk half a dozen yards up the street, without encountering half a dozen green parasols.’