Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Cull

I've been trying to gradually get rid of my books (well most of them) for the past couple of years.

This will be a long process, as over the years my collection (calling it a library seems pretentious) numbers several hundred dusty tomes, most of which have been read at one time or another.

Every fortnight, I grab a pile of ten or so more at random and go through each one.
The critical question is 'will I ever read this book again?' and if the answer is no, then the book goes in the culling pile. The next step is to go onto E-Bay and make sure I'm not chucking away some obscure collector's item. The answer so far is NEVER, although I was pleasantly surprised to make some money flogging Fiat X1/9 manuals a few years ago.

It's good to know that someone, somewhere still cares about that car, and doubtless struggles with the electrics by the wonderfully named, but low quality Magneti Marelli.
Sadly that windfall has been the exception. The vast majority of my books are essentially worthless - dusty grotty paperbacks, unsigned, fourth or fifth editions and flogged by numerous semi-professional outfits for a penny, with any profit coming from the suspiciously high postage and packing.

Today's cull revealed a slim volume by Ian McEwen, whose Atonement was filmed a few years ago and shown on ITV a couple of weeks ago. This one is more obscure entitled
A Move Abroad and it contains the screen play for a TV play called The Ploughman's Lunch which was a sideways look at Thatcherism and the Falklands War, and the lyrics for a oratorio called Or Shall We Die?

At some point roughly around 1983, radical feminism reached a high point in Britain, at least in academia, and I was caught right in the middle of it, doing a psychology degree in Manchester from 1983 to 1986. Shortly afterwards I moved abroad, and was surprised on my return to Britain ten years later by the backlash that produced new laddism and popularised feminists such as Camille Paglia.

Flipping through Or Shall We Die, it's impossible not to laugh at the earnest solemnity of a piece that combines extreme 80s feminism with that other obsession of the decade - nuclear war. Here are some choice excerpts:

Shall there be womanly times, or shall we die?

Our God is manly! In war he refuses us nothing!

And even now, as I sit upon the grass, across the world, in buried places, sleepless men wait at consoles and watch the patient sweep of scanners for a sign of penetration, male virgins, deathmasks in the greenish light.

Heh heh heh!

Anyone who wants to satirise the 1980s can simply go to Or Shall We Die? and lift chunks of text straight out of it with no amendment or commentary necessary.
The great irony was of course that McEwan was writing all this during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first and so far only female Prime Minister, and so far with no female successor even remotely plausible at the moment.

The other great irony was that radical feminism's greatest achievement may have been to get more women into the military of all developed nations. In the oratorio war is exclusively masculine, peace belongs to the character called WOMAN. Today, the crews of her majesty's ships, the pilots of her majesty's planes, and numerous other military jobs are filled by women, in a way that was hard to imagine back in early 1980s.

I suppose the last lesson is the commonplace observation that nothing dates as fast as high fashion, and that includes intellectual fashion as much as clothes or anything else.

Despite all this, I can't bring myself to put A Move Abroad in the culling pile just yet...



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