The German writer W.G. Sebald died in a car crash near his home in Norfolk ten years ago today. I had only recently heard of him, having a short while previously read a review in the London Review of Books of what proved to be his final work of Sebaldiana, Austerlitz. I use the word Sebaldiana, because I do not know how else to describe the genre in which Sebald wrote: a haunting, inextricable amalgam of fact and fiction, interspersed with enigmatic, captionless photographs, paragraphs (and occasionally sentences) which run on for several pages, narrative nested several narrators deep, unlikely coincidences, dream sequences, panic attacks, curiously empty landscapes, and occasional dry humour. The books are, I think, about the unreliable nature of memory, with the holocaust nagging away, understated, in the background (overstatement being impossible). Or so I believe. But that, it seems to me, might be the whole point: I think you are supposed to work out what it all means to you. Or perhaps I am mistaken.
This year, I re-read three of Sebald’s four works of Sebaldiana: The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, and The Emigrants, and I am as perplexed as ever. Which I think must count as a ringing endorsement. If a ringing endorsement from me isn’t enough to put you off, then it seems to me that you could do far worse than to pick up a copy of The Rings of Saturn—perhaps my favourite of Sebald’s books—and read it twice: the first time to find it strange, haunting, and unclassifiable; the second time just to reassure yourself that your unreliable memory did not deceive you, and that the book really was as strange, haunting, and unclassifiable as you seem to think you might remember.
The Guardian bookshop has a special offer on (for today only): Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day! for just £15. This is a real bargain, considering the book is currently a whopping £11.99 on Amazon.
But look at which other books the Guardian thinks you may [sic] also like, if you’re the sort of person who is likely to buy a vegetarian cookbook:
The entire print-run of the first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species sold out on its very first day. If you are lucky enough to own an original, it’s worth an awful lot of money.
But imagine how much more valuable your original copy of On the Origin of Species would be if the print-run had been not of 1,250 books, but of just two? Priceless is the word you’re looking for. Utterly priceless!
Which got me thinking. There’s money to be made here, if one can lay one’s hands on the entire print-run of a future classic book on the day that it first comes out.
But how? How does one purchase an entire print-run?
And then it dawned on me! You disintermediate and publish the book yourself:
Happy birthday, Stense! Look after your present: it’s one of only two copies in existence.
(We’ll both be able to retire on this, mark my words.)
It is as if Emily Brontë could tear up all that we know human beings by, and fill these unrecognizable transparencies with such a gust of life that they transcend reality.
Kate Bush said:
Sylvia Plath (buried just across the valley from here) said:
There is no life higher than the grasstops Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind Pours by like destiny, bending Everything in one direction. I can feel it trying To funnel my heat away. If I pay the roots of the heather Too close attention, they will invite me To whiten my bones among them.
The inspiration for at least one website: Ivor Cutler's 'Gruts'.
J.R. Hartley used Yellow Pages, but, this week, I successfully resorted to Amazon to track down an old book I’ve been after for many years. I suspect you’ll be very surprised I didn’t already own a copy.
Meanwhile, in related news, I also tracked down a video of Ivor Cutler performing Gruts For Tea. The video is introduced by Neil Innes, who, bizarrely seems to think Cutler’s masterpiece is called Grats For Tea. Go figure.
Anyway, sit back and enjoy:
Fitz and I saw Ivor Cutler perform once. Imagine my delight when he opened the show with Gruts For Tea.