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I remember a cycle. It began when I had picked up a book...or even found myself on the telephone with someone towards whom my voice betrayed eagerness, a rush of sympathetic energy. The child (or children) might be absorbed in busyness, in his own dream world; but as soon as he felt me gliding into a world which did not include him, he would come to pull at my hand, ask for help...
If the past perfect in bold were replaced with the simple past as:
I remember a cycle. It began when I picked up a book...or even found myself on the telephone with someone towards whom my voice betrayed eagerness, a rush of sympathetic energy. The child (or children) might be absorbed in busyness, in his own dream world; but as soon as he felt me gliding into a world which did not include him, he would come to pull at my hand, ask for help...
How would the replacement effect the entire passage? Would there be any semantical difference at all? If any, what would it be?
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Hi, Taka,

The past perfect struck me immediately as odd. The only possible past tense reference I can find is "as soon as he felt," and I'm not comfortable in explaining how "as soon as" might effect the tense status of "he felt" in terms of it's ability to serve as a reference.

The second problem is that the book and the telephone are alternative choices, and I believe should therefore have the same tense.

I believe the reader would take the simple past as the correct tense, and would disregard the use of the past perfect. Therefore both sentences would be understood as having the same meaning.

- A.
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Believe it or not, the original is the one with the past perfect, for your information:
http://books.google.com/books?id=U5ShgVznR0QC&pg=PA83&lpg=PA83&dq=%22It+began+when+I+had+picked+u...  
That's really comical, in a way. At one point I was thinking it had to be a grammatical error.

If the "beginning" of the cycle is taken as the simple past reference (It began), than you'd have to say "It began after I had picked up a book," since the picking up (past perfect) preceeds the beginning (simple past).

Thanks for the heads up, - A.
I wonder if the native speakers here would feel kind of awkwardness as well...Anyone? 
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I agree that it's a bit strange. I would have written
It would begin when I picked up a book ...
because the author uses the would of past habit later in the passage as well.
CJ