“Changing Places”

“Changing Places”, the David Lodge book from the 1970s, has been on my mind a lot lately. I read it in the early 1980s and it’s the kind of book I would like to make time to read again. I mistakenly thought that it was made into a TV series in the late 1980s, but ( tells me) it was “Small World”, the follow-up, which also featured Morris Zapp, the English Literature Professor who leaves “Euphoria State” for a spell at “Rummidge” University. Zapp was played by John Ratzenberger (Cliff the Postman from “Cheers”, and a regular voice in all the Pixar movies, from “Toy Story” onwards).

It took me less than seven minutes to track down my copy of the book, which is pretty good going these days. It was in one of six small cardboard storage boxes, tidied away in 2012 and containing books that I did not expect to read or refer to anytime soon. (Shelf space is at a premium.) They’re stored vaguely in alphabetical order by author surname (E-P and M-W were the boxes that I opened) and some books by David Lodge and Penelope Lively were in the latter box, as I suspected they might be.

I have written previously about clutter and finding things, and included a link to this article by Russell Hoban. I recommend it: it should make you feel better about the state of your place. If it doesn’t, maybe you need to do some tidying. Here’s what he says about trying to find things.

I can’t always find the DVD or CD I’m looking for, and many of my books, although visible, are out of reach because of stacks and heaps in front of the shelves and no floor space for a ladder. In cases like this it is more economical to buy a new DVD, CD or book than to spend a day in search-and-rescue operations.

I haven’t had to spend hours in “search-and-rescue” operations for books, but have spent hours trying to find things contained within books. Usually this is okay, flicking, re-reading, skimming, and even if the object of my search eludes me I am at least re-reading something that has made an impact on me. I have written about this elsewhere, and mentioned more than once how good it would be to have everything I have ever read on an eReader, if only for research purposes. I wondered whether to spend £4.99 on the Kindle version of “Changing Places”, but having found my printed copy I have also found what I was looking for, and the main reason that the book was on my mind.

In the book, Professor Morris Zapp is a Jane Austen expert and, as page 44 of my Penguin edition says:

Some years ago he had embarked with great enthusiasm on an ambitious critical project: a series of commentaries on Jane Austen which would work through the whole canon, one novel at a time, saying absolutely everything that could possibly be said about them. The idea was to be utterly exhaustive, to examine the novels from every conceivable angle … so that when each commentary was written there would be simply nothing further to say about the novel in question. The object of the exercise, as he had often to explain with as much patience as he could muster, was not to enhance others’ enjoyment and understanding of Jane Austen, still less to honour the novelist herself, but to put a definitive stop to the production of any further garbage on the subject.

My own reasons for writing these Blog posts, and for writing “1000 Memories”, are similar (in a small, less methodical and maybe more light-hearted way). By noting down some of the things (stories, memories, conversations, ideas), which have been on my mind for years, or sometimes decades, there might be nothing further to say about them. If anyone wants to know why I hate the toy-shop Hamley’s, or how I learnt to kick a ball, or why I support Leeds United (and those are the kind of questions that I have been asked many times), the answers are in the book.

Having re-read the first 50 pages of “Changing Places”, and found what I was looking for, I hope to finish it (estimated time remaining 4-5 hours, no need for a Kindle Paper White to tell me that). It has evoked very clear memories of lying on a beach in Torrevieja in 1981. I couldn’t possibly have known back then what a palimpsest or a haiku was, and both words appear in the first chapter. My brother was coming to the end of his year in Spain as part of his university course, and for a week or two we would take a bus to the beach and lie there for hours, reading till we needed to cool down with a quick swim, taking lunch when it got too hot, back to the beach for the afternoon and more reading. And then we’d stay up till all hours drinking gin and tonic and hanging out with his Spanish friends and his Spanish girlfriend, who became (and still is) his wife. The bright sun and the lack of distraction seemed to increase my reading speed. I finished this book in a day back then, and ripped through “Dog Years” by Gunter Grass, Solzhenitsyn’s “August 1914” JJ Scarisbrick’s “Henry VIII” and “Herzog” by Saul Bellow. It was one of my binge-reading times which came to an end before I arrived at university myself a few months later. But that’s a different story.



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