Paul Spalding-Mulcock, Features Writer

Mucking Out the Augean Stable: A Bedside Table Muse

How cruel to sometimes have an abundance of time and no vim. Equally annoying is the obverse of this state. I don’t know about you, but sometimes finding the time and inclination to indulge in a long reading session can be an Herculean task, albeit without the drama or the filthy stables. Even on days not riddled with the imperative to do this or complete that, sitting down for a lengthy period with a book might not take my fancy, or be relegated to that mysteriously elusive time we refer to as “later”. Sacrilegious as that may be, it’s my annoying reality.

Fortunately for my wellbeing and that of my marriage, I usually manage to find time for my books, despite the hurly burly and capricious shifts in mental acuity. However, there are moments when I genuinely do not have the time to switch off with a long read, or frustratingly can’t find the resolve to do so. A long read is sometimes simply not possible, desirable or at the risk of blasphemy, justifiable. Like many others, I need a daily literary restorative, but lassitude or life occasionally get in the way. I needed a life hack to deal with this pesky malady. Thankfully, I found it a few years ago… ‘The Go To Collection’.

On a hallowed bedside table, I keep a small assortment of books which have a unique purpose. Each has been specifically removed from the book cases which infest my home like Japanese knotweed. As an aside, rabbits could learn a thing or two from book cases. Each book has been carefully selected according to its ability to meet a specific set of criteria. No quarter is given. A book does not make the cut for this exclusive group unless it hits the bull’s eye with the precision of an arrow from Robin Hood himself. This cornucopia of literary friends must be up to a special task - selectorial insouciance is an anathema. Effort went into its making. So, what is the purpose of this elite collection and what are the rules of entry to this exclusive cadre? Perhaps far more importantly, why should you care?

Let’s start with the purpose of The Go To Collection. To deliver a scintillating and satisfying dose of literary entertainment when time available, or mental weariness preclude a lengthy reading session. It’s the literary equivalent of a snatched cuppa; restorative and requiring minimal effort to be deliciously savoured. The Collection’s chief objectives are to provide immediate sustenance, be available on demand and guaranteed to leave me satiated, despite a meagre appetite or lacking the time to stuff my face. And so to the rules I use to form my collection. Each book must be have the capacity to be enjoyed within a 30 minute period. Each visit should not require progress through the book, merely deliver a balm for the mind complete in and of itself. Each book must withstand and encourage repeat readings. The Collection must contain sufficient variety to ensure that, regardless of mood or disposition, at least one volume will spark interest and tether my unruly mind to its contents for a brief period.

Finally, my collection must be able to remind me that books are an essential antidote to almost all of life’s tribulations, tumultuous blurring, importunate prosaic tasks and capricious twists and turns of fortune. It’s a set of books that I know will delight me each and every time they are briefly visited. They are the volumes which make me smile even before a page has been turned, if only because, to me at least, they understand the importance of being uniquely able to step up when time is short or mental focus etiolated. Possibly most importantly, my Go To Collection is not a coffee table ornament or a home for worthy works deserving of a read, but more likely to be touched by a dusting cloth than a mind! It’s inherent worth is inextricably determined by its relevance to me and me alone. It’s a little like writing a personal journal; utterly pointless unless unflinchingly honest and entirely devoid of consideration for what other people might think. A Go To Collection is subjective, private and so deeply personal as to be heading towards sacred!

Which leaves me with why you might be interested in all this Go To Collection malarkey. Picking a book at will off your shelves is a seemingly simple task. Is it though? When time is against me, abundance of choice creates its own problems. When time is with me, occasionally the reading muse is not, or her voice audible, but unenticing. When turning to my Collection recently, it occurred to me that I might not be the only avid reader all too often rudely burgled by the time thief, or beaten into mental lethargy by a panoply of competing priorities and undeniably essential, if mundane, tasks. If so, then perhaps assembling your own Go To Collection, if you do not already have one, is something well worth considering and may prove to be great fun.

Every reader can construct a fabulously exciting and individual smorgasbord of delights, all deeply personal and idiosyncratic. Perhaps what makes us so interesting to one another is our delightfully unique responses to life and the authenticity with which we respond. A Go To Collection is an act of personal assertion, a fearless acknowledgement of personal tastes, predilections and an individual fight against quotidian obligations and mental listlessness. It’s always perfect and free from censure. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly works for me!

My Go To Collection is unsurprisingly eclectic, as being so is a necessary and sufficient condition! It contains a book I bought as a student and sent down to London to be rebound and returned to me leather clad and marbled - A Thousand English Essays, edited by Rosalind Vallance. Just handling it makes me instantly happy and itch to dive into it, knowing I’m sure to find a short essay to catch my wandering mind. The rest of the Collection includes A Century of Humour edited by P.G. Wodehouse, The Myths of Greece and Rome by H.A. Guerber, The Wit and Wisdom Of Winston Churchill by Max Morris, A Shakespeare Anthology compiled by G.F. Maine, and Standard Stories From The Operas by Gladys Davidson. The last mentioned is an absolute gem, stuffed to the brim with exquisite short stories, all saturated in high drama or intoxicating playfulness. My Go To buddies have an irresistible appeal to my book loving mind and never demand too much of my time. Anyone can create a convenient stash of books, to be dipped into and relied upon to befriend you when time is short or concentration lacking. That Go To Collection of yours is beckoning…perhaps it’s time to raid your shelves and select the chosen few, if you can see the wood for the trees!