Sixteen years ago a friend handed me Talking It Over by Julian Barnes and his stream of conscious confessional style novel had me hooked. Admittedly I did not view his work then as I do now, something which often happens with age and experience, but nevertheless loved his narrative technique and language. The witty banter his characters volleyed back and forth across the pages turned me into an avid Barnes collector. Over the years I have read every single one of his books, often loaning them out without hope of return but content to have converted another, or at the very least exposed them to what Publishers Weekly refers to as “a dazzling display of verbal pyrotechnics that would bring down the house if this were a play.”
I have several shelves dedicated to the twenty books in his oeuvre, but on each shelf, as the one above depicted, the books are not organized alphabetically or chronologically, but rather by the effect they have had on me. In this regard I like to think of myself as the average reader experiencing his work as many before and after me have and will – his global message stands well received and my methods of cataloging his works applies universally, beyond my own reality. But anyone who has ever read a book and tried discussing it with another will know this is often not the case. The message received is personalized, existing in the microcosm of the reader’s experiences. Twenty books may be rearranged in innumerable ways depending on who you ask.
Barnes has a morbid fascination with life, in that through death, devastating loss, and departure he explores life, displaying it in the raw, peeling away the artifice that encapsulates those from the likes of Flaubert to the common and simultaneously unique Gillian. He offers an array of slices of life without a definitive end, and even death only exists in terms of those still living and their ability to continue forward.
So I never think of this shelf as a storage space for his books, but rather an exhibit of my memories in a constant rotation to be shared with those closest to me.
His titles have carried me through different Levels of Life, allowing me to feel my Pulse as though I will always have Something to Declare, even as I am Staring at the Sun, Through the Window in Metroland, Talking It Over in Letters From London, about The Pedant in the Kitchen at The Lemon Table, along with The Porcupine and Flaubert’s Parrot all waiting for Arthur and George as it was told in The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, Before She Met Me, Cross Channel in England, England where it was all about Love, etc. with Nothing to be Frightened Of because it was always only A Sense of an Ending.