One of these days I will have an electronic reader and I look forward to the convenience and comfort which it will provide. But today, as I start again to survey my shelves for a book, which I read only recently and which now eludes me, I find myself reflecting that there are certain books, which , as far as I am concerned, will always be impossible to replace. There are books that I wouldn't swap for a wilderness of e-readers. This feeling has little to do with the nature of books in general but rather with the relationship built up over the years with specific books. And it is not the content to which I refer; it is rather the familiar signs of usage on a cover or on a page; a coffee stain perhaps; a forgotten bookmark; a marginal note; a dedication; a deteriorating spine; an elusive smell of mustiness or soap. I think of books which have travelled with me to different parts of the world and in time, travelledwith me through 70 years and more. I take one or two down from the shelf. Here is my Oxford University Press The English Poems of John Milton, still holding together although it has sat in countless numbers of my pockets - so much to value in such a small space and yet with a clear, readable type. Countless books would, I know, fit into the same space on an e-reader, but that worn, navy blue cover has been faithful to me and I to it since my schooldays. Another loyal companion is the Penguin Book of Spanish Verse (Price 5/=), which has been repaired with sellotape and whose yellowing pages now recall the aire amarillo of the time before sunset in southern Spain, and the phrase itself, which I must first have come across within its covers. And here is The Faber Book of Comic Verse, which I have read over and over again for it reservoir of wit and fantasy, nonsense and its few shreds of sublime wisdom, which are close to nonsense but go far beyond it. I still fail to find the book I am looking for, but I find a lot else to think about.
My Autumn digging is now almost complete, and all the beds dug and weeded for the frost, when it comes, to work over. And today, arrives the seed catalogue just at the right time. With the almost empty beds fresh in my mind, I begin to see myself sowing them, and the tidy rows of emergent seedlings that will follow. If Winter comes...