Ali Smith has written a wonderful book for the Canongate Myths series (a wonderful series, too) called Girl meets boy. The book sets ‘Ovid’s most joyful metamorphosis’, the story of the man-woman Tiresias, in the twenty-first century.
I’ve just read this passage (from pages 29-30):
The second-hand bookshop used to be a church. Now it was a church for books. But there were only so many copies of other people’s given-away books that you could thumb through without getting a bit nauseous. Like that poem I knew, about how you sit and read your way through a book then close the book and put it on the shelf, and maybe, life being so short, you’ll die before you ever open that book again and its pages, the single pages, shut in the book on the shelf, will maybe never see light again, which is why I had to leave the shop, because the man who owned it was looking at me oddly, because I was doing the thing I find myself doing in all bookshops because of that maddening poem – taking a book off a shelf and fanning it open so that each page sees some light, then putting it back on, then taking the next one along off and doing the same, which is very time-consuming, though they don’t seem to mind as much in second-hand shops as they do in Borders and Waterstones etc, where they tend not to like it if you bend or break the spines on new books.
Now I’m going to think about that every time I’m in a bookshop, or even just at home … .
Does anyone know the name of the poem she’s talking about?