"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Borges and the Toothbrush or What to Read on Holiday

The BBC recently aired a documentary about Bruce Chatwin (about whom I have an interest since I wrote the first book about him, photographed here by a friend of mine in an African schoolroom) to co-incide with the publication of Chatwin's selected letters.  One of the clips was from a TV chat show where "Bruce" was holding forth on Borges whose work, he said, should always go into the traveller's knapsack, as an essential "like a toothbrush".  I see his point and it raises the old question of what one does take on holiday.  I am off to Corfu for a week and the choice, as usual, is between a big fat serious book and more "entertaining" matter.  I usually choose the former and I was about to pack Thomas Mann's Dr Faustus, having been alerted to it by Gabriel Josipovici in his new book (see recent post) and having realised I hadn't read it.  But I have an hour or two to decide.  I am hovering over Labyrinths and a book or two of poems.  With memories of a whole holiday dominated by the 1000 odd pages of Dombey and Son I am leaning towards some elegant brevity.  Aldous Huxley's recommendation was for Boswell's life of Johnson, in the portable Oxford india paper edition, which I have somewhere, but this is a short trip and I will be doing a lot of lazing and daydreaming so something a little more dilettante is going to end up in the bag I can see.  Plenty of time to get serious again when I am back. (But I'll slip in the Mann anyway as an insurance policy.)


Andrew Kenneally said...

I think to a reasonable degree books and their reading inhabit seasons and having read Mann's Faustus, in presuming Corfu means sun and heat I wouldn't personally imagine the two a natural marriage. Faustus is very much a northern European book, dense, and heavy, not rendered lightly, a book for the dark months, all in all to my mind at odds with a stay in the Eastern Mediterranean. A clash of colours.
Off the top of my head maybe Lampedusa's Leopard. . . . Or Kazantzakis' Report to Greco.

Andrew Kenneally said...

Just noticed I'm a Tuesday behind with my invaluable literary help.

Nicholas Murray said...

Thanks, Andrew, and I agree about the choice of sunny books for sunny climes. In the end I had a very short and active holiday with the minimum of lying inert on a beach (though I swam every day) so it was Borges after all, admirably suited to small dips. Plus some poems. And Mann untouched for now but his time will come as the skies darken.