24 October 2011

A History of (My) Reading

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good mind, must be in want of a good book to read. 

I try to read, I really do. Or at least I really try to think I try to read. I go to the library, for instance, and I walk down the aisles there, smelling the books, thinking that the sheer amount of pages and sentences and paragraphs in that place is pure heaven. I even borrow some books, occasionally. Renew them repeatedly, hoping that I’ll get around to open them. Return them, unread, slightly past the final due date.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and this book is the sun!

I used to be an avid reader. I learned to read at an early age, and from then on I devoured books like other kids devoured – whatever they devoured. Computer games? Stuff like that. I used to turn the light back on after my parents went to bed, and read into the wee hours. I used to fall asleep mid-book, dreaming up new storylines that frequently were better than the ones I found on the pages. My family used to make jokes that I might as well read the phone book, as it seemed not to matter to me what it was I read. They don’t print the phone book anymore, which is good for the environment, but bad for friendly jokes to taunt children who read a lot.

One Book to rule them all, One Book to find them, One Book to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

University was a major turning point. The sheer amount of non-fiction I was supposed to read put a strain of the amount of fiction I managed to read. Besides, the attraction of relaxing with a good book after having read course material all day was limited. Instead I did… What did I do? I didn’t have a TV. I didn’t have internet for the first year. I must have spent time with actual flesh-and-blood friends, or some other such weird activity. Plus I think I visited my parents a lot. I even kept my job – in the local bookshop – in my hometown that entire year. I remember that my recommendations got outdated, though. I never read anything new, just kept using the same old favourites over and over. Regular customers probably re-read a lot of books that year.

It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because I have to read this book.

Genre-wise there was also a shift. I almost became a book snob. I had gone from children’s books to young adult to whatever adult books I could get my hands on, with a small lapse back into children’s and YA once I was old enough to actually read the adult books. But then I started thinking about quality. Quality as defined by others. I had a Nobel Literature Prize phase. It was short. Then I had a Booker Prize phase. It lasted a little longer. I read classics; new, inventive works; and bestsellers only if they were given some award or other.

All animals are equal. But some animals read more books than others.

It didn’t last. My dry spell for fiction during that first year of university was also a setback for my snobbishness. I needed lighter reads, less complexity, to put me back on track. These days I don’t consider the genre so much. If I like the look and feel of the book, if the back cover description is appealing to me, if the book has an “x-factor” that makes me want to read it, I will. Or rather, I will plan to. I buy it, or borrow it from the library. Put it in the TBR-pile, physically or on Goodreads. And there it stays, along with hundreds of other books I once planned to read. I never lose faith, though, in my future ability to catch up with every book I once wanted to read. Just you wait and see!

Why is a raven like a reading-desk? 

All quotes in this post are from the first drafts of the famous books they were later to become. True story. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Mari, I just recently found time to read. I couldn't even think of reading before the summer. And library? What's that? No seriously, I haven't been in a library since . . . long time. :D