My Commonplace Book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)
“The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book—
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs. . . .
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice . . . . . . .”
—from a poem (titled by first line) by Clive James (2003)
When I read this poem aloud to a roomful of writers, they erupted in giggles at the first line and remained convulsed throughout the fifty-odd lines of it. Clive James had nailed us all.
As an avidly reading child, I spent hours in my church—the public library—surrounded by the shelves of sacred tomes, I read the authors’ names on the spines with awe. I assumed, I believed—I knew—that the act of creation must purify these creators, making them saintly, almost demi-gods in comparison with their humble readers.
When I began to write, then to meet other writers, and to read more biographies of writers. I quickly learned that, except for the moments spent in the act of creation, writers’ and artists’ behavior is pretty much like everyone else’s—good and bad, now and then—subject to all of the seven deadly sins, especially the slimiest, meanest one, envy. (How the remaindered writer became the poet’s “enemy” is not explained. Was it merely by getting better reviews? Wider sales?)
Yet James’ poem may soon be incomprehensible to most readers. With new technologies of print-on-demand, plus shopping on-line, the word “remainder” is disappearing, along with (sadly) our old hangouts, bookstores.
(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)