Saturday, 13 February 2010

If life had a second edition

One of my more obscure books, Interdisciplinarity, has just been published in a second edition. Since it’s currently 732,853 in the Amazon rankings, I don’t suppose it will trouble their movers and shakers list. Still, it’s nice to get a second go at something and it made me think of John Clare’s cri-de-coeur – ‘If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs!’ - and these words from Wislawa Symborska:

I’m working on the world,
Revised, improved edition,
Featuring fun for fools,
Blues for brooders,
Combs for bald pates,
Tricks for old dogs.

It’s a common cry of children: I did that wrong, that go didn’t count, could we start again please? No, you can’t. On this blog, we’re naturally suspicious of the notion that you can go through your life with a blue pencil and take out the typos. There are no second acts in everyday lives. But if you’re really good they might ask you to write a new conclusion to a book you wrote 8 years ago and stick a new cover on it.

Talking of Amazon, this has to be the strangest piece of data mining ever, received in my inbox last week:

Greetings from We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated The Damned Utd by David Peace have also purchased The Cambridge Companion to J.M. Synge by P. J. Mathews. For this reason, you might like to know that The Cambridge Companion to J.M. Synge is now available.

Note the plural of ‘customers’. This isn’t just a random person out there who happens to be interested in a novel about Brian Clough and an Irish playwright. Quite independently of each other, customers (plural) are buying this strange combination of books. Who are these people and why are they doing this?

Mundane quote for the day: ‘I went to the suburbs because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what they had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted the order that other people seemed to have, the non-apophenic order of a normal life … Surbiton. Shorthand for a place that almost existed, a simplified world of autumn leaves and buses and a house in a side street where a man could live clean and true.’ – John Burnside, Waking Up in Toytown


  1. 'non-apophenic' does not appear in the dictionary, what does it mean?
    And I find amazon frequently quite helpful at pointing me to books I might otherwise not come across.

  2. (This will seem like a commercial plug, but I'm not the author nor affiliated with him in any way. I happened to hear about the book on CBC's Definitely Not the Opera. With which I am also unaffiliated.)

  3. Thank you both. Burnside explains the word earlier on in the book: 'I suffered from a condition called apophenia. This condition, this unease, was described by Klaus Conrad, the schizophrenia specialist who coined the term, as the unmotivated seeing of connections, coupled with the specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness. In other words, seeing things that weren't there.' So I guess non-apophenic is the opposite of that.

  4. Sir
    Do you have the Cambridge companion to J M Synge? or A J.M.Synge Literary Companion?
    I need it very urgently. I am a reserch scholar (PhD), woking on treatment of Christianity,Mythology in Irish theatre//Synge.
    Plz help.
    Looking forward to your reply
    my mail id is

    Ruchika Singh
    The Aligarh Muslim University