Fatherly Books

September 23, 2009

From Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos (Penguin, London, 2004)

None of the books in my father’s dusty old bookcase were forbidden. Yet while I was growing up, I never saw anyone take one down. Most were massive tomes – a comprehensive history of civilization, matching volumes of the great works of western literature, numerous others I can no longer recall – that seemed almost fused to shelves that bowed slightly from decades of steadfast support. But way up on the highest shelf was a thin little text that, every now and then, would catch my eye because it seemed so out of place, like Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure why I waited so long before taking a look. Perhaps, as the years went by, the books seemed less like material you read and more like family heirlooms you admire from afar. Ultimately, such reverence gave way to teenage brashness. I reached up for the little text, dusted it off, and opened to page one. The first few lines were, to say the least, startling.

From David Toop, Haunted Weather: Music, Silence and Memory (Serpent’s Tail, London, 2004)

My father was not a great reader, or writer, come to that. After he died I found a diary he had kept. Most pages were blank, though occasional entries noted family visits and other small fluctuations in atmospheric conditions. ‘A slight breeze’ I remember, if only for its lack of experiment. For most of his life, he seemed to own just one book. As he grew older he acquired a few books on photography, boxing and World War II, his main interests, but from the time when I was a boy I recall only a travel book called Tschiffely’s Ride, Aimé F. Tschiffely’s account of his three-year journey from Buenos Aires to Washington DC in 1925, using only two horses.