So much time is spent bemoaning the tiny things that irritate or depress that I suspect far too little is spent celebrating those tiny things that increase joy by a quantum.
Downstairs, in the main room, there are four ceiling height bookcases, all down one wall. This is the first pleasure.
The end ones were already here upon arrival. I fabricated the middle two to match, though I fear not from the same riotously expensive old wood. They look, however, about right.
On each bookcase sits one of those pebblish lights from Habitat. This is very much the second pleasure.
In fact, the lights are what Habitat called ‘Pebbles’, and are just the sort of off-round that invites an appreciative stroke of the hand. Habitat, in their wisdom, replaced ‘Pebbles’, with ‘Eggs’ a couple of years ago: taller and clearly ovoid, the new shape exudes a slightly pointy unapproachability for reasons I can’t really pin down.
Thus, the awareness that the pebbles are not eggs, coupled with the wrongness of the decision to replace one with the other, invests the former with all the additional qualities lacking in the latter. This is, if we’re counting, pleasure 2 b).
The third pleaure, however, is simultaneously the smallest, and the one we’re gathered here to discuss.
One of the pebble lights is cunningly set up to light up at the gentlest nudge of a book. This childish joy is no doubt the product of too many childhood hours reading stories of espionage, or watching venerable horror films in which creaking bookcases open onto vistas of wonder.
The cataloguing of the tiny delights is nearly complete, but the alert among you will have already leapt ahead to the final joy, the ever-important Pleasure No. 3 b).
The identity of the book.
The initial set-up was, of course, accidental, and I took an appropriately incidental pleasure that the volume involved at that stage was The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing. This foursquare acknowledgement of the effect’s proper place gently amused me for a few months. Finally, a wholesale rearrangement of the bookcases was required, resulting in the shelf in question housing slightly smaller books.
This left an interesting question. Where, thematically, to go from here? I quickly ruled out the most obvious candidates: anything about the Enlightenment, the Bible (forcing the internal pantomime of “fiat lux” every single bloody time).
The second round of choices were far more interesting.
First up, I spotted my copy of Harry Houdini’s fraud-busting Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, which appealed for its Wizard of Oz implications, but slipped by because the book itself featues intemperate expositions of fraudsters long since forgotten.
Then, I looked to see what blind chance had provided, as I had stacked along the shelf books that were simply of the right size. The historically inevitable consequence was that Collected Writings of Karl Marx had control of the means of illumination. Hm. Workable, and useful for winding up the neighbours, but otherwise dubious. In fact, anything political, up to and including Blair’s Wars is just not a good long-term bet.
Swiftly, the ground seemed to open up. What about Carl Sagan’s The Demon-haunted World for its spotlight on flannel? Leprohon’s The Italian Cinema because cinema is all about shining a light into the darkness? What about sheer illumination: Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (I swiftly discovered that I had no Hume). Darwin’s On the Origin of Species? Gibbon, Plato, Randi or Popper? Borges, Sciascia, DeLillo or Nairn? Science or art? Ancient or modern? A work of philosophy or one of Alan Moore’s comics?
A decision had to be made, not least because it was becoming increasigly difficult to explain why, with piles of books almost if not literally everywhere on the floor, I was dithering endlessly over the precise position of one. Ultimately, I plumped for the book which seemed to fulfil the demands of thematic aptness while being the least immediately obvious choice to hand.
I chose John Man’s Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection, because Genghis is a lazy byword for the bringing of darkness, when he was more like the Alexander or Napoleon of his time, the builder of an empire nearly twice the size of Rome’s. I also chose it because I have a primitive joy in the way the very name Genghis Khan is recolonising the Mongolian lands: as families forcibly dispossessed of their tribal names three or four generations ago are encouraged to pick them up again, where they simply can’t remember they almost inevitably decide that they must be Khans. The equivalent is every Arthur in Britain deciding that his surname should be “Pendragon”.
Finally, because the book is the right size, and let no man ever deny the progress of a good book when it is made to be the right size.
Picture me pushing Genghis Khan’s nose every evening, and smile as I smile.