Q What do Ulysses, Clarissa and Harry Potter have in common?
A People don’t pinch ’em. Well, not from my book shelves.
My theory is that, in Harry Potter’s case, anyone who wants him has already got him. As for the other two– well, frankly, they don’t want ’em. They’re not books you read
a) starting at the beginning and going straight on until you get to the end
b) for pleasure.
Actually, Ulysses was the biggest disappointment of my reading life so far when I first read it, aged about 12. I adored The Odyssey. A trusted teacher told me that Ulysses was exciting. Um– childish men and contorted prose didn’t do it for me at that age. I even said so, which in retrospect I’m quite proud of, though I wasn’t at the time. I hadn’t been called a Philistine before.
Q Which books do people pinch?
A Ones they might just start a love affair with.
You know the feeling– the glance across a crowded room, the hair rising on the back of the neck, the goblin Imagination sitting up in its bat-cave, rubbing it eyes and saying, ‘All right….’
I always think of that moment as the recognition of starlight– suddenly you’re on your own in a solar wind: you might fly, you might freeze; you might just wake up in a fluster in your own bed, feeling a bit of a fool.
Actually, I have a theory that the really vitriolic reviews of novels which you sometimes find on the Internet are written by people who feel dumped by a book they’ve nearly fallen in love with. No fury like a disappointed lover.
Q Name names
A Too many to list.
I’ve done a lot of re-purchasing over the years. Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting is probably the champion pinchee. I’ve had at least five covers on that one, and I don’t count the current chick-litty one, because I’ll give that away as soon as I can get another copy; nobody’s going to have to pinch it.
A starter list of other titles which have proved too strong a temptation for my guests: Blandings Castle and Elsewhere by P G Wodehouse; Middlemarch by George Eliot; Thyme Out by Katie Fforde – actually, no Katie Fforde is safe but for some reason Thyme Out seems to be a particular favourite with bookthieves; Sylvester by Georgette Heyer; The Cement Garden by Ian McEwen. (Interestingly, The Boys’ Club only get pinched in their earlier incarnations; Metroland goes a lot, too. Saturday and Arthur and George have stuck like an aunt after Christmas.) Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Q Has it ever happened to any of your own books?
A Ah . . .
Up to now I’d never thought so. Largely, I suppose, because when people come to stay with me, I don’t press my own effusions on them. They take books away with them because they start reading something from one of the shelves in the spare room, where they sleep, or the bathroom, where they hibernate, or even (occasionally) the sitting room, though that’s where I keep the big stuff I’ve had for ever and love a lot. Generally, I manage to head them off at the pass in there. Besides, who’s going to go staggering out of the house with a Folio Edition of The Tale of Genji tucked inside their hoodie? Modern clothing doesn’t have the load-bearing capacity.
My own books are kept in the study, where I don’t usually encourage visitors. So guests don’t get their hands on them unless they ask. Mostly they don’t.
However, there are a few early indications that To Marry A Prince MIGHT just have started edging me towards this august Company of The Pinch-Worthy. There have been rumours on Twitter and telephone chats of families tussling over it. But Twitter is ephemeral and oral accounts are so easy to misinterpret. I like good, solid written evidence. So I beamed from ear to ear last week when a respectable citizen wrote to me, ‘My 12 year old grand-daughter quickly seized my copy and avidly got going with it. I managed to get it back and read it myself on my way out to Bordeaux last week.’ He did get it back, of course, which strictly falls outside the statistical definition, I suppose. But still . . .
Dance little book! You might be on the way to becoming Pinchable.