A book is a kind of lavatory

by Kelvin Smith

Anthony Burgess did not write about publishers in The Malayan Trilogy, but close to the end of the last book, Beds in the East, his main character Victor Crabbe exchanges these words with a Chinese assistant manager.

“The Japanese killed my father,” smiled the Chinese. “They poured petrol on him and then threw a lighted match.”  He laughed modestly. “They made me watch.  They were not very good people.”

“History,” said Crabbe, battering his pain with words at random.  “The best thing to do is to put all that in books and forget about it.  A book is kind of lavatory.  We’ve got to throw up the past, otherwise we can’t live in the present.  The past has got to be killed.” But, in saying that, off his guard with the pain in his foot, he reverted to his own past, and pronounced the very word in the Northern style, the style of his childhood.

Do books help us to preserve the past, change it or put it in its place so we can focus on the present?

Anthony Burgess, Beds in the East, 1959