I suppose that there are three categories of books that to which we must address ourselves: those we haven’t yet finished (for me at the moment, a reprehensible half dozen, plus an unknown number I’ve probably forgotten); those we are yet to read; those that we will not read.
Yesterday’s comments by Julian Cope on the goalkeeper as shaman reminded me of one of the books I’m currently reading, Carlo Ginzburg’s bold thesis on witchcraft, Ecstasies. Ginzburg, of course, draws attention to survivals of shamanistic cults from early modern times to the present. In particular, he finds evidence of shamanistic practices where witches fly on certain nights armed with strange weapons (such as sticks of sorrel) and do battle with opposing groups of witches, sometimes from nearby villages. Can I be alone in detecting a continuum between this, European-originated team sports such as football and hockey, and Quidditch? I doubt Ms Rowling read Ginzburg before inventing Harry Potter, so we must be looking at a folk memory re-emerging periodically along highly structured symbolic axes.
As to what I will be reading, there’s little question: it’s the excellent Jonathan Coe’s excellent biography of BS Johnson, here reviewed in the New Statesman (though the reviewer, in describing Coe as a ‘traditional’ novelist, is clearly forgetting the playful construction of Oh What a Carve Up!.
Finally, I won’t be reading Ulysses, at least not in this page-a-day version. The idea works for Leonardo’s notebooks because they weren’t designed to be read as a narrative. Ulysses was, so sit down and read it at least a chapter at a time, idlers. It’s not as impenetrable as it’s made out to be, not by half.