Riddley Walker - The Potentiality Of A Book UnreadSunday, December 18, 2011
I learned a few good things in Juan Domingo Perón’s dictatorship but I only took one of them to heart. Perón told us that in Argentina only children were privileged. This dictum of his was in big signs in all of our city parks. In school we were told to save our money by buying government bonds (Ahorro Nacional). We all had our little booklets with our savings. We were also told by Perón, via our teachers, that books were sacred and valuable, so valuable, that we should never think of writing in them or bending any of the corners. In the mid 50s this man went against his advice, and, taking a cue from Hitler had his minions burn books that wrote the truth about him.
But while I have never really learned to save money I have always had an appreciation for books and for their intellectual value. Many of these books became my friends and parting with any of them causes me lots of sorrow. Books, my books, should be home with me. A home without pictures on the walls and books on shelves and on tables is not a home.
But it was in January of 2010 that I realized that I had too many books and that not only did I not have any room for any more but that if we were to move to a smaller place as our health declines I would have to part with many of my friends. This was heart wrenching so I made the decision to not buy any more books.
The Vancouver Public Library has interceded for my friends in a pleasant and efficient manner. They send me notice of the books I have ordered from their catalogue and that they are available for pick up at my nearest library at Oakridge.
But this Christmas I found a way of buying books and getting pleasure out of it. This experience gave me a justification to go to bookstores and look at the shelves and smell the smell so particular of books be they new or old.
I have found no friend who might enjoy Umberto Eco’s The Cemetery of Prague so I will have to put my dibs for it at the Vancouver Public Library.
When I stare at my book shelves I am proud to think that I have read all of them. This is as it should be. Unread books are like pearls unworn. My mother used to wear her pearls often and told me that if she did not, pearls, who were really still much alive, would lose their lustre. I believe she might have said the same thing about a poor and unread book.
It was Brother Edwin Reggio, CSC who told me that it was our purpose in life to find out what we did well and then proceed to do it. Books as books must be books. Therefore to carry out their function they must be at least read once. I often wonder what to make of those pseudo books with blank pages. What are they? What can they become? It was from Brother Stanley Repucci, CSC that I first learned of potential energy. Can an unread book survive on it?
And, there is one book in my library that I have never read. In 1980 I laboured through the first three pages and gave up on it.
The book is called Riddley Walker and its author Russell Hoban died, Tuesday, December 13 in London where he lived from 1969. He had been born in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. This mournful-looking but most intelligent man on the back cover of my book reminds me of a blend between Len Deighton and Michael Caine. This wonderful author (and of this I know thanks to Frances) wrote a series of children’s books (illustrated first by Garth Williams and subsequently by Hoban’s wife Lillian) featuring a sad looking badger called Frances.
Hoban himself was a trained illustrator but he opted to write his children stories and not illustrate them.
Hoban’s Riddley Walker is set in Canterbury, England 2000 years into the future. A nuclear holocaust in a an almost forgotten past has left the world with few inhabitants and very little civilization. Slave populations labor for unseen masters who are determined to unearth the secrets, electricity, etc, of the past sort of like in A Canticle for Leibovitz by Walter M. Miller.
What made reading this book impossible for me is the invented (worn down? broken apart?) language of the narrator. I think that I will make a new attempt in my own personal homage to the man with the mournful face.
Here is the first page of Riddley Walker:
On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadn’t ben none for a long time befor hin nor I aint looking to see none again. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clatter his teef and made his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, ‘Your tern now my tern later.’ The other spears gone in then and he were dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, ‘Offert!’
The woal thing fealt jus that lttl bit stupid. Us running that boar thru that las little scrump of woodling with the forms all roun. Cow mooing sheal baiing cocks crowing and us foraging our las boar in a thn reay girzel on the day I come a man.
The Bernt Arse pck ben follering jus out of bow shot. When the shout gone up ther ears all prickt up. Ther leader he wer a big black and red spottit dog he come forit a little like he ben going to make a speech or some thing til 1 or 2 bloaks uppit bow then he slumpt back agen and kep his farness follering us back. I took noatis of the leader tho. He wernt close a nuff for me to see his eyes bu I thot his eye ben on me.
Coming back with the boar on a poal we come a long by the river in wer hevvyer woodit in there Through the girzel you cud see blue smoak haning in be twean the black trees and the stump pink and red where they ben loppt off, Aulder trees