880 How did you find that?

If you read a lot, you’ll know what a lot you’re missing. Just wander around any book shop, however small, and you’ll see more interesting-looking books than you could ever possibly read. You could just take the advice of Ecclesiastes,

“Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh”

shrug your shoulders, and go home. Or you could do some research, watch Newsnight Review and suchlike, read reviews in up-market newspapers and magazines, and try to get some idea of authors and titles that you would probably enjoy. After you’ve done all that, you might still have some time left to read the books themselves.

Or you could do what I do, which is to read, mostly, the books that life throws at you. This isn’t as random as it sounds; books usually come into your life for some reason, and that reason is likely to have a bearing on your interests and activities. And you can have some nice surprises; I have discovered some of my favourite authors more or less by chance.

You can perhaps put yourself in a situation where interesting books are likely to come your way. Some time in the 1980s I wrote to the editor of British Esperantist magazine, which has always been a fairly literary journal, and offered my services as a book reviewer. For reasons best known to himself, editor William Auld gave me a go; and over the next ten years or so I had a splendid time reading, appraising and reviewing all sorts of things I would otherwise have missed.  Not only that; the reviewing process helped me to develop skills I never knew I had, such as assessing what the author really intended, judging whether they had succeeded and even occasionally making helpful remarks.

I took this very seriously; at one point I even attended a one-week seminar on book reviewing, held in Switzerland (at La Chaux-de-Fonds) in the hope of doing a better job.

I had never given much attention to reading poetry properly ; in other words, going beyond the immediate emotional appeal and getting into the inner workings of the poet’s mind. By the time I had reviewed two volumes of contemporary Esperanto poetry (one by Krys Ungar, the other by Julius Balbin) I got rather better at doing this.

Another discovery was Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita;  I had the pleasure of reviewing the Esperanto translation of this, having previously known nothing about the book or its author. Taken at face value it’s a strange and fantastical tale, though (as the translator’s copious notes explained) there’s a great deal of underlying political allegory. Personally I would have been just as happy getting the fantasy without the explanations, as I said at the time.

I could continue with more examples of books I would have missed; but if you my reader have missed them too, this would not tell you much. To get back to my starting point; to  discover these wonderful things you have to make your own luck, just be in the right place at the right time, but you don’t need to make a huge effort. In my case, a knowledge of Esperanto and a one-page letter to a magazine editor did the trick. Your route will probably be different, but it needn’t be any more difficult.


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