Autodidact: self-taught


“The Book-Bag” by W. Somerset Maugham

by V. L. Craven

This week’s short story is a bibliophile’s dream. It’s about a man who lives in terror of being caught out without a book on one of his travels. I know the feeling–it’s the main reason I’ve been making a digital library. I already have over 6,000 books in my netbook. What’s a bigger thrill for the serious reader than having an entire library in something the size of a hardback?

Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without–who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severeed fcrom reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him?–and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot.

And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful suply of his dealy balm I never venture far without a sifficiency of reading matter. Books are so necessary to me that when in a railway train I hae become aware that fellow-travellers have come away without a single one I have been seized with a veritable dismay. But when I am starting on a long journey the problem is formidable. I have learnt my lesson. Once, imprisoned bu illness for three months in a hill-town in Java, I came to the end of all the books I had brought with me. …
Since then I have made a point of travelling with the largest sack made for carrying soiled linen and filling it to the brim with books to suit every possible occasion and every mood. It weighs a ton and strong porters reel under its weight. Customhouse officials look at it askance, but recoil from it with consternation when I give them my word that it contains nothing but books. Its inconvenience is that the particular work I suddenly hanker to read is always at the bottom and it is impossible for me to get it without emptying the book-bag’s entire contents upon the floor.

I pointed to the book-bag. It stood upright, bulging oddly, so that it looked like a humpbacked gnome somewhat the worse for liquor.

I knew from long experience how to unpack it. I threw it over on its side, seized its leather bottom and, walking backwards, dragged the sack away from its contents. A river of books poured on to the floor.

There were books of all kinds. Volumes of verse, novels, philosophical works, critical studies (they say books about books are profitless, but they certainly make very pleasant reading), biographies, history; there were books to read when you were ill ad books to read when your brain, all aleart, craved for something to grapply with, there were books that you had alwas wanted to read, but in the hurry of life at home had never found time to, there were books to read at sea when you were meandering through narrow waters ib a tramp steamer, and there were books for bad weather when your whole cabin creaked and you had to wedge yourself in your bunk in order not to fall out; there were books chosen solely for their length, which you took with you when on some expedition you had to travel light, and there were books you could read when you could read nothing else.

And one for the solitary types out there:

She seldom left the estate. She had plenty to do. She read a lot. She was never bored. She seemed quite happy in her own company, and when she had visitors it was only from a sense of duty. She didn’t want them to think her ungracious. But it was an effort and she told me she heaved a sigh of relief when she saw the last of them and could again enjoy without disturbance the peaceful loneliness of the bungalow. She was a very curious girl.

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