A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


A General Does Not Unsheath His Sword & Dracula At Chapters
Friday, January 25, 2008

It was close to midnight the other Saturday night when Rebecca came up to me and said, "I love books." She looked at a desk in the room. It had piles of books on it. I told Rebecca to bring the piles to me, a few books at a time and I gave a quick précis on each one and in some cases I read the first page of the first chapter. She was curious of one, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder by George Gaylord Simpson. After struggling through the first chapter of this very small and thin book Rebecca came to understand that small books are not necessarily easy. At the very least none of the first chapters where like William Boyd's The Blue Afternoon. When I read this to Rebecca last year it brought negative repercussions from her home. This time around I tried to be careful.

I am sure my parents showered me with children's books yet I can consciously remember being 8 years old, sick in bed with a cold, and reading an American comic book, The Lone Ranger. It was around then that I discovered Achilles and began to read history books. But I also remember a first book, perhaps because of the bright green colour of its cover and the even more colorful bird illustrations inside.

El Mundo de los Pájaros was given to me (it is written inside) on the day of my first communion, December 7, 1950. I was 8 years old. The book is signed by Alicia Bakker and Suatrache Pampa. The latter name is most unusual but my guess is that they may have been teaching colleagues of my mother's. I selected one of the monochrome illustrations from the book for this blog. Such was the influence of this book (which I have always had with me) that I chose to do a nostalgia photographic essay on Argentine birds with the lovely Linda Lorenzo.

There are two other books that are part of my early life with books. One was given to all of us at school in 1950 which was the one hundredth anniversary of the death of San Martín. Perón decreed at the end of 1949 that all school children in the beginning of the next would have to write on the top right hand corner of every page of every school notebook this:

"1950 Año del Libertador General San Martín"

The book is called El Legado de San Martín. I thought it impossibly dull most of my life. As nostalgia for Argentina began to strike in my old age I gave it a read and I found it less dull. On page 22 of the first chapter called El Conductor (a milder version of the word and equivalent to leader) San Martín writes:

Mi sable jamás saldrá de la vaina por opiniones políticas.

You would have hoped that many an Argentine general of the latter 19th century and the 20th had followed that advice:

I will never unsheath my sword for political opinion.

The third book of my early life Corazón by Edmundo De Amicis (it lost its cheap cover only recently) was given to me by my father's friend, the plainclothes cop, Manrique. I remember it as my second or third grade teacher read daily from this book plus another that was a biography on Franz Schubert.

Books are in my mind because I want to gently persuade Rebecca that reading and books will never make her lonely. They are our most faithful of friends. But Rebecca gets lazy and sometimes opts for clothing Barbies on the computer or watching (to my chagrin) those programs where they appeal to children to convince their parents to adopt a child in Africa.

Yesterday I went to Chapters and chatted with a nice sales clerk woman (she had been raised in the Northwest Territories with lots of books) in the children's book section and we jointly decided to give "Graphic Classics" a fighting chance. I remember reading Ouida's Under Two Flags as a Classics Illustrated and my reading habits were never corrupted. One thing I know for sure. I will dedicate the book to Rebecca and write the date. Perhaps some day this book will be one of the treasures of her reading memory.


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