Graham Greene's Library

Kevin Barefoot

One of the April New Yorkers contains a wonderful piece by Robert McCrum on Graham Greene's library, an archive to be coveted not for its size (a mere 3000 volumes) or its variety (from Planet of the Apes to Sanctum Jesu Christi Evangelium, a gift from Pope Paul VI), but for the thousands of notes Greene scribbled in margins, on flyleaves and end-papers (I think it was Joseph Conrad who said no writing is ever finished, just abandoned at some point): plot summaries, notes for novels in progress, word counts, snippets of dialogue. In The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble, he writes, "Flying to Helsinki 17.8.69—Coming into a new capital at night still has its spell"; while visiting Fidel Castro he writes, "A man who is discovering things for the first time ... He talks but is prepared for interruption and he listens, too"; in Gorky's autobiography he lists an itinerary—"London-Moscow-Peking-Moscow-London-Paris. April-May 57"; in Evelyn Waugh and His World, he writes, "Evelyn considered that at the Sunday collection, the correct minimum was the price of a cinema seat." Greene's library reminds us that the important stuff is often to be found in the margins.

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