A weblog called Books Do Furnish A Room

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Most of my weblogs have an entries explaining "Where'd you get the name of the weblog from?" But never this weblog.

Years ago I was visiting Savannah. As always when back home, a town without decent bookshops I went to the Savannah Public Library (bless Andrew Carnegie). I can't remember if I picked up Evelyn Waugh's Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (very strongly recommended) on a whim or from some other reading.

Delighted with Waugh, reading about him, soon I was looking for the friend of his youth, Anthony Powell. The first book I found was Books Do Furnish A Room. Sorrowfully I discovered it was a very late book in a series called "The Dance to the Music of Time." The library didn't have the earlier volumes and it wouldn't be until I went up to Atlanta to visit my friend Ariel that I found the earlier books. They were packaged in an awful mass market omnibus format with three books to a volume (the inner margins were so damned narrow I had to all but break the books to read them).

Several years pass and I'm living in Chapel Hill, NC. I'm working for at Keith & Martin (now simply called The Bookshop, best used bookshop in RTP). Like many another I decide that I could open my own. Chapel Hill seems overcrowded so we decide to open in Durham where there's only the awful Book Exchange (books arranged by publisher).

Wanting our name to advertise everything we were carrying the shop is originally called Books/Records/Comics, sad, eh? Shortly thereafter we got tired of hearing people express surprise that a store that sells comic books also sold good books, damn, scholarly and literary books (in the shop's original configuration the first section you saw was literary criticism).

We really needed a new name. The world is overstocked with Reader's Nooks and Book Corners. Since we sell hardcovers we couldn't steal Prometheus Paperbound. Anthony Powell with his aloof elegance proved a surprisingly sympathetic author.

So we became Books Do Furnish A Room.

Reusing it for this weblog saved time and effort

[Listening to: Say It With A Slap - Louis Prima & His Orchestra - (2:30)]


It might be appropriate to add that “Books Do Furnish a Room” is also the title of a very obscure essay, by Stephen Fry, on… books (I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming). It appears in his collection of potpourri, Paperweight, and is NOT recommended as an introduction to Fry’s writing. A much better one is The Liar, in which Fry describes, in one of the scenes, a university professor whose entire apartment is a veritable labyrinth of books, which indeed also make up the furniture.

Actually, I prefer Fry’s incidental journalism in “Paperweight” more than his novels (though The Hippopotamus is fun for long stretches). I don’t think long-form fiction is his forte.

Funnily enough, when I read The Liar, I copied out into my commonplace (note)book the scene Ronnie describes. The quotes below on those objects we love and loathe come from Dr. Donald Trefusis, one of Fry’s alter egos:

“[Books are] stupid, ugly, clumsy, heavy things. The sooner technology comes up with a reliable alternative the better…Books are not holy relics…The superstitious mammetry of the bourgeois obsession for books is severely annoying…[Digression on how books are treated with respect, whereas words are not.]

“…A book is a piece of technology. If people wish to amass them and pay high prices for this one or that, well and good. But they can’t pretend that it is any higher or more intelligent a calling than collecting snuff-boxes or bubble-gum cards…”

I do adore books as objects, but I also hate boxing them up and lugging them when I move. I’m trying to divest myself of the ones that have been hanging around unread for years and be a little less sentimental about them, but it’s very hard.

If Fryís journalism had shown up here I probably wouldíve sampled them. Iím very fond of essays; they are less of a commitment than a novel.

Iíll give Fry a shot the next time someone sells me one of his books. As much as I like comic fiction Iíve never found that many funny writers that I really enjoy. The prose isnít distinguished or the pacing and construction falter too often.

I do adore books as objects, but I also hate boxing them up and lugging them when I move.

I think the second sentiment may lie more heavily on many people and the book as object will begin to fade as the e-book becomes popular.

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Richard Evans Lee
A weblog called Books Do Furnish A Room
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