My bookshelves were more successful with Veronica than my record collection. In those days, paperbacks came in their traditional liveries: orange Penguins for fiction, blue Pelicans for nonfiction. To have more blue than orange on your shelf was proof of seriousness. And overall, I had enough of the right titles: Richard Hoggart, Steven Runciman, Huizinga, Eysenck, Empson...plus Bishop John Robinson's Honest to God next to my Larry cartoon books. Veronica paid me the compliment of assuming I'd read them all, and didn't suspect that the most worn titles had been bought secondhand.
Her own shelves held a lot of poetry, in volume and pamphlet form: Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, Stevie Smith, Thom Gunn, Ted Hughes. There were Left Book Club editions of Orwell and Koestler, some calf-bound nineteenth-century novels, a couple of childhood Arthur Rackhams, and her comfort book, I Capture the Castle. I didn't for a moment doubt that she had read them all, or that they were the right books to own. Further, they seemed to be an organic continuation of her mind and personality, whereas mine struck me as functionally separate, straining to describe a character I hoped to grow into. This disparity threw me into a slight panic, and as I looked along her poetry shelf I fell back on a line of Phil Dixon's.
"Of course, everyone's wondering what Ted Hughes will do when he runs out of animals."
"So I've been told," I said feebly. In Dixon's mouth, the line had seemed witty and sophisticated; in mine, merely facetious.
"Poets don't run out of material the way novelists do," she instructed me. "Because they don't depend on material in the same way. And you're treating him like a sort of zoologist, aren't you? But even zoologists don't tire of animals, do they?"
She was looking at me with one eyebrow raised above the frame of her glasses. She was five months older than me and sometimes made it feel like five years.
"It was just something my English master said."
"Well, now you're at university we must get you to think for yourself, musn't we?"
- Julian Barnes
The Sense of an Ending