• Mike Gould

'Let me die on a bed of words...'



Attractive book covers, e.g by Philip Pullman

These are the opening words to a poem written by a good friend of mine, John, which appears in a joint collection of our verse called 'Limited Ballads', aping in our minor way the similar-sounding selection by two other more well-known bards of the Romantic period. We're all standing on the shoulders of giants.

Perhaps the more accurate line then would be, 'Let me be born on a bed of words..' because if we're lucky enough to have grown up in a house full of books, or in a family full of strong, distinctive voices, then we're set fair for life - at least in the pleasures and privileges those early influences bring.

But it also brings a sort of pain. I am not going to speculate on the number of years I have left on earth, but even if I become the acme of medical science, I am never going to read all the books I want to read, listen to all the radio programmes or podcasts I want to hear, or watch all the programmes and films I want to watch. There is just too much GOOD STUFF.

I find bookshops especially painful both as a writer and as a reader. Embossed lettering, original artwork, brilliant photos. Typefaces that seductively curl across the rectangle or march brazenly forward in cubed ranks. And that's just the covers. A simple (oh that it were simple!) glance at the back cover and you're astounded by the range of imagination and of knowledge. There is hardly a book you look at which doesn't remind you its author is a 'new voice for our age' or the work is 'compelling and moving.' Sometimes I feel I could enjoy every book (except for the celebrity fitness books, obvs). And it's not that I wish to take issue with the claims. When I read the blurbs or scan the opening lines, I often find myself agreeing: 'Wow - this captures the zeitgeist!' or 'At what point does reading practically the whole novel in a bookshop constitute a theft?'

It would make life so much easier if there was more crap when it came to novels and such like. I long for the day when I can genuinely say - 'There's nothing on the telly' - because it is literally never true. Partly because 'telly' doesn't mean 'telly' anymore. It means the whole universe of available digital media. So, every moment of leisure time which isn't taken up with the other enjoyable stuff there is too much of (e.g nature, music - need I go on?) is taken up with rejecting all the great things you never have time for. 'Peaky Blinders? Line of Duty? There are still about ten episodes of The Sopranos I've yet to see. And in any case, we're watching the best thriller of them all, the brilliant BBC production 'Inside Europe: ten years of turmoil' - a compelling mix of Machiavellian villains and heroes, the on-off romance of Merkel/Sarkozy, and Greek tragedy - in this case not meant classically or metaphorically. You must see it, I tell a friend. He gives me the look that all such fellow sufferers have, and lies, telling me he'll catch up with it at some point.

I will inevitably die on a bed of words, because you can't escape them. Life's not a snooker table where you slowly pot all the balls leaving silence and emptiness at the end. On the contrary, the table fills with more and more possibility as you get older, balls overflowing the baize as you frantically try to clear them up, your head brimming with the ever-multiplying shelves and lists, sounds and words, the endless unread rivers of language.

#PhilipPullman #book #cover #ballad

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