A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword. Robert Burton, 1577-1640.
I’ve been reorganizing my books recently. No, not because I’m the nerdy, obsessive type who arranges his reading material in some weird way. Alphabetically by author is mainstream, so don’t judge me. Judge that bunch who group them by colour. Weirdos.
But even if there was a soupçon of the nerd about me, that’s not what got me moving books around. Thank YouTube for that.
Thanks, YouTube! You're the best!
I saw a clip in which someone demonstrated how to use a book for self-defence. That then led me to an article on the best classic books to use as weapons.
That very same night — that very same night! — I heard someone moving about downstairs when I got up for a pee sometime around 3.00 a.m. It’s usually an hour before that when I go for my first run, so I was having a good night up until that point.
I can’t recall exactly what went through my head when I heard the sounds from downstairs. It was either a slightly whimsical how quickly things change reflection or a more visceral ohshitohfuckohholymotherofgod reaction. One of those two.
The only other person in the house was my wife, and she was out for the count. I quickly ruled out Harry the Ginger Prince since cats don’t open kitchen cupboards or pull out the cutlery drawer.
I won’t keep you in suspense. It was our son who’d arrived unexpectedly after a night out and was now making himself a sausage sandwich. But for a few brief, bowel-moving seconds, I thought we had a burglar in the house.
It got me thinking. If we did have an intruder, how well-prepared would I be to deal with the situation? Obviously, the first thing to do is phone the police, but what happens in the long minutes it takes them to get there? What if the intruder was making his way up the stairs?
And it would be a ‘he’, wouldn’t it? Housebreaking as the last bastion of male-only career opportunities. Discuss.
Traditional weaponry is not the answer. Unlike some places — and I’m looking at you, America — we’re not allowed to keep assault rifles, grenade launchers or flame throwers under the bed. Knives aren’t an option either. I’ve a safety certificate, with distinction, for handling staple removers and mail openers, but anything more lethal than that and I’d likely cut the tips of my fingers off.
The YouTube clip made me think that books could be the answer. By happy coincidence, we have a bookcase at the top of the stairs right outside the bathroom. Ideal spot to make a stand. With that in mind, I shifted some carefully selected books upstairs.
The heaviest book I own is a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I’ve had it for 42 years. It’s a big, hardback volume, solid as a concrete slab. Its edges are as sharp as the day it was given to me, possibly because it never gets opened. If that book gets chucked at you from the top of the stairs, you’re going to need more than a tin hat and Kevlar vest to stay standing.
As a follow up, I have an old bible which I’ve owned since Religious Education class in 1971. It’s another hardback, a bit tatty by now. It might well disintegrate on impact, but it could still knock back someone already concussed by Shakespeare.
I’m also leaving a few other hardback books ready to hand. Most of these are the biographies of sport stars or celebrities. They’re full of vacuous, self-absorbed shit, so I won’t miss them if they get damaged or the police take them away as evidence.
A few of my chunkier paperbacks have been conscripted, too. War and Peace, Ulysses and anything by Charles Dickens are all hefty enough to slow down an intruder’s advance.
Again, I won’t miss these books if they get destroyed or removed from the house. I don’t actually read them. I may have read them once, a long time ago when I was young and pretentious. Those days are gone. I'm not young anymore. I only keep them around to impress visitors. And TV viewers, in the unlikely event someone sends a crew round to interview me in front of my bookcase.
I’ve also moved some of my poetry books upstairs. Not the bulky ‘collected works’ versions. Rather, the slim, selected poems type. Some of those wee boyos have razor-sharp spines that could slice through a ham shank with just a flick of the wrist. I’m keeping those to cover my retreat to the bedroom. If I miss with my heavy artillery, I want something light and deadly for the hand-to-hand combat.
There’s a small volume of Irish poems that looks like it could do serious damage to a carotid artery. Céad míle fáilte—'a hundred thousand welcomes’—might be just what I need.