Friday, June 10, 2005


Golly. Truly a baptism of fire. Whilst the venerable, learned and noble Mr Seat and I have two educational establishments in common, I fear that, to use a poker analogy, he will see my paltry MEng and raise me an LLB. One’s selected bedtime reading is not quite the ground upon which I would choose to fight a battle with this adversary…

1. How many books do I own?
Bizarrely, I have the honour of having been published in the Times on this topic. This arose the penultimate time that your humble Pedant-General was moving to a new grace and favour apartment and found himself cursing the weight of young master Pedant-General’s library. During a well deserved break from this epic labour, I chanced upon a letter in the Times, suggesting that books were infinitely preferable to the interwebthingy as:
a) one cannot curl up in bed with the internet and
b) what could be more portable than a book?

I recall that Lady P-G required to administer a strong cup of Earl Grey tea and even stronger administration of the P-G red proof-reader’s pen before either my letter was fit for publication or I was fit to be seen in public.

How many books do I own? I must confess that I have not counted but I can state with confidence that, collectively, they weigh about three quarters of a ton.

2. What’s the last book I bought?
“The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker. In much the same way that Messrs Sellar and Yeatman memorably brought the study of History to a “.”, I suspect Mr Booker has done the same to literary criticism with this magnificent study.

3. What’s the last book I read?
The position here is confused for two reasons. Firstly, my reading time is somewhat limited – a crime for which the youngest master Pedant-General must answer in the fullness of time. Secondly, Lady P-G has a particularly loathsome habit of swiping any interesting book in which I might be engaged. As a result, I tend to have a number of books on the go at any one instance.

Thus, it is either “A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson, or “Fermat’s Last Theorem” by Simon Singh.

This latter has a delightful entry in the Appendices showing the proof that the square root of 2 is irrational. A little more mathematics and slightly less sociology would do this country a power of good.

Although I suspect strongly that Mr Bryson is no stranger to the Grocer’s Apostrophe, we must be grateful for this epic. I would recommend that each member of the Kansas Education Board buy a copy and read it, carefully, from cover to cover. See “Creationism”, filed under “Hanging Offences” in my manifesto.
That said, I fear that, if Mr Seat were to read this book, the last remaining topics of conversation in which I do not feel a complete philistine and entirely uninformed in his company would be expunged for good.

4. What are the five books that mean the most to me?
  • I am not sure how one would procure a copy of “Serve to Lead” on the open market. It is a slim volume of essays, speeches and extracts from a number of books on the topics of morale, leadership, discipline and courage. Here is Field Marshal Sir William Slim:

    Courage is the virtue. Without it, there are no other virtues. Faith, hope charity, all the rest don’t become virtues until it takes courage to exercise them. Courage is not only the basis of all virtue; it is its expression. True, you may be bad and brave, but you can’t be good without being brave.

    And very powerful it is too.

  • This. I clung grimly to any passing hope of survival lived through its four year gestation period. Lady P-G is justifiably proud of her magnum opus. Buy it: It is simply the only book you need to have in your kitchen.

  • It would be foolish, churlish even, to deny that Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss is not somewhere upon this list. A glance at my manifesto below might give you, dear readers, a clue as to why.

And to finish, two rather more esoteric choices:
  • Anyone who has worked here, or indeed any number of places like it, will know that in the late 90s, one lived or died by one’s ability, on demand and after several days without sleep, to mumble arcane incantations from the “Excel Function Reference Guide”. The feverish state of the – unnamed – author, holed up in some unspeakable dungeon of the Seattle gulags, cannot be imagined

  • “The Art of Electronics” by Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill. Though I have not had call to refer to this for more than a decade, I cannot bear to part with this. Can’t quite explain why.

I’m afraid that the half-life of these little diversions is falling fast, given the way that the interwebthingy appears to be cutting the fabled “seven degrees of separation”.

A long and distinguished list of equally distinguished and entirely grammatically unimpeachable bloggers has already offered their contributions in this field.
Nosemonkey, Tim Worstall and Mr Seat all spring instantly to mind.

Equally, I would be fascinated to see the contributions of Dr Richard North and Margot Wallstrom, but I suspect the former has not the time and the latter has not the inclination.

- Thersites
- Bystander at The Law West of Ealing Broadway
- Harry Hutton at Chase me Ladies! I'm in the Cavalry
- Squander Two
- John B at Shot by Both sides

It appears that my comment above was prescient: John B has already posted on this topic. Drat.

In which case, Elaib at England Expects would be a very sound replacement, assuming the Stasi that run the systems at the European Parliament will allow him to access blogger.


Elaib said...

1 - Lots, better still most of them have been read - though there are some that arrived with my darling wife involving improving my life that I have yet to get around to browsing.

2. The Stories of English. By some Welsh chap, hold on...David Crystal. Bought simultaneously with White Gold, by Giles Milton. The first is an enjoyable, but at times a tad academic study of the growth of the English language, its tributaries, and most importantly in the modern world, its distributaries. The second is the tale of the tens of thousands slung into slavery by the Moroccans, and the Barbary pirates.

3. The two above alongside, A throne in Brussels - Paul Belien’s devastating critique of the Belgian, its Royal family, corruption and their relevance to modern European Politics (already read it once - now re-reading for review purposes) and one of Alan Mallinson's marvellous Harvey novels.

4. Funny that, “Serve to Lead” is in my loo. A great anthology.
To ask the five book that mean the most has a desert island feel about it.
But things that struck me dumb and leave me still mumbling
A)Hume - Treatise on Human Understanding. (Still don't quite get it, but the closest I have ever read to explain what it means to be alive)
B) Sir Gawain and The Green Knight - Read (in translation ) early in life it helped me believe in humour in defence of decency and England, and honour and humanity and fun, and poetry. Does that sound pompous? Yeah probably, but it is heart felt.
c) Recently the Ramotswe novels, The First Ladies Detective Agency etc. Books about doing good.
D) A great fat dictionary of Quotations. Other people always seem to have already said what I would have liked to have said, better and quicker. Why draw a straight line by hand if there is a ruler to hand?
E) What’s Bred in the Bone - Robertson Davies. If an angel ever lived in Canada and touched an author then it did to the bearded seer of Toronto. Magic mystery, high Anglicanism, art history myth, beauty, joy and a direct understanding of how history both public and private impinge upon our daily lives.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


I must say that I had indeed considered the Dictionary of Quotations or possibly Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Now all you have to is post this to England Expects and pass it on to 5 others....

Thersites said...

My sobbing has ceased & I am resigned to my fate. I'll post today.

Thersites said...

Posted on my blog.

berenike said...

Fowler? Or the book by the chap that did the new Fowler, a style manual for the Civil Service: flicked through it when my sister came to visit, as a result of which she nearly returned to the trans-Atlantic colonies without it.