Friday, December 03, 2010
When I was 18, just after moving to Glasgow to go to university, I bought a copy of Lanark by Alasdair Gray and was completely bewitched by it. I had dreams afterwards about growing scales on my skin. I related the dystopian landscape of the book with what I saw in Glasgow at the end of the twentieth century, just beginning its economic recovery and rehabilitation with events like the Glasgow Garden Festival (a visit here was the last time I saw my granny before she died; the cheerful newness of the showhouses and a cheap showcase of "modern" design are what I remember) and the accolade of European City of Culture (1990).
I had my precious, battered and well-read copy of Lanark until 1993. It was borrowed by my then-flatmate G to take across the Atlantic, on a boat-delivery mission from Cyprus to the British Virgin Islands. He got sick and had to get off the boat in Minorca, leaving my book behind; on its continued journey, it was seized upon by the captain's girlfriend, who decided it would be a fine wheeze to tear out each page upon reading it and cast it into the sea. On arrival in the BVI, she threw the carcass away.
Favourite books are a special possession in a way that few other things are. I can happily leave a thriller on a plane or in a hotel room for someone else to read, but I sometimes lie awake at night worrying about the safety of books left in the attic of a house in North London. This callous behaviour with someone else's book, by someone who later went to clown school, has always struck me as being an unforgiveable act of vandalism.