How do you read? These days, I tend to read in bursts. This is partly because I lead a busy life and find it hard to set aside time for reading. So I will buy a book, or borrow one from the library, full of enthusiasm, start reading and put it aside “for a moment” while I do something else, and then realize I haven’t touched it for days, weeks or even months. In such circumstances it’s easy to lose the thread and to feel the need to go back a few pages or start the current chapter again.
Or perhaps I will start a book and then pick up another one and start reading that because it seems so interesting. Before I know it, I am devoting my reading time to the new book while the old one languishes on the side. Or maybe I will read both together, the “hard” one during the day when I have my wits about me, and the “easy” one at night before going to sleep.
I find books endlessly fascinating. One of my favourite gifts is book tokens. I am in the happy situation of having some at this moment. Despite the fact that I am always popping into bookshops – I find it hard to walk past one in the same way that an alcoholic finds it hard to walk past a pub – it still takes me a while to use up the book tokens. This is because, obsessed as I am with books, I am equally obsessed with the need to use the book tokens “wisely”.
The problem is that there are so many books on the market. One person could never read more than a small fraction of them. Booksellers are sneaky. Well, I suppose they have to be. Anyway, they lay the books out attractively to catch your attention; they have “bargain books” bins; and, of course, they have all these famous “offers” where, for example, they sell you three books for the cost of two. You may be in a hurry and want only one book but if it is included in such an offer, you feel obliged to choose two others so as “not to waste money”. So then the books pile up, unread, at home.
My task is made easier – just a bit – by the fact that I do not read fiction. Fiction is a waste of time. It’s lies, all lies, you know. Made up. There is so much to learn about the real world, swathes of knowledge that I will never have the time to acquire and understand, even if I live as long as Methuselah, that I have no time for fiction. Even so, I still cannot read all the books I wish I could. The world is a beehive animated, not by buzzing, but by the scratch of pens on paper or, these days, the click of fingers on keyboards. And the honey pours from the presses in marvellous floods.
So, how do you read – in a desultory fashion like me, surrounded by half-read books, or like those people I see on the tube, totally absorbed in a book, so much so that when they reach their station, they drift along the platform with the book still held in front of them, unwilling to put it aside for a second? Jeffrey Archer or Richard Dawkins? The Mayor of Casterbridge or A Short History of Time? Public library or bookshop? The world of books, the endlessly fascinating world of books…