Wednesday 20 August 2014

'Don't read much now...'

Among the clips of Philip Larkin in Great Poets in Their Own Words was one of the poet reading (in that decidedly posh voice of his) A Study of Reading Habits -

When getting my nose in a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could still keep cool,
And deal out the old right hook
To dirty dogs twice my size.

Later, with inch-thick specs,
Evil was just my lark:
Me and my coat and fangs
Had ripping times in the dark.
The women I clubbed with sex!
I broke them up like meringues.

Don't read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who's yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.

This is Larkin in one of his blokey personas (as in Self's the Man and, in extreme form, This Be the Verse), moving from an account of childhood reading that is plausibly autobiographical to a middle stanza that hints at darker things (and contains what is surely the only known use of the rhyme 'fangs' and 'meringues') before the shadows close in for the final, terminally disenchanted stanza, to arrive at that bleak, and clearly far from autobiographical, conclusion. As ever with Larkin, the rigorous formal control of this awkward, unsettling material is masterly.
Larkin completed and dated A Study of Reading Habits on this day in 1960.


  1. Wonderful. I have become very careful about book purchases, especially escapist fiction. Too many tired, overworked plots hoping to thrill or terrify me that only make me cranky. You should do a post on themes to avoid in the autumn of our days.

  2. My first tip would be to avoid all recent fiction Peter.

  3. And deprive myself of all those riveting explorations of women's inner emotional lives?

  4. I know - it will be hard at first Peter, but persevere...