“So many books, so little time” – Frank Zappa.
I have a confession to make. I am a book whore. I will read anything and everything. This includes cereal packets, shampoo ingredients, terms and conditions and whatever the person sitting next to me is reading (sorry). The act of reading itself is an escape for me, a way to go off into another world. Reading is an adventure.
I began “reading”as a newborn baby whilst my mother read aloud to me from nursery rhyme books. I learnt to read for myself at a very young age (it is debatable whether I had just memorized the stories) and have been devouring books ever since. I remember going to the library as a child and being upset about their six book limit – I could read all of my new books in a couple of days, and then what would I do for the rest of the week? At junior school I read every single book in their library twice. I chose my senior school because their library was the biggest.
The books that I’ve read have always reflected whatever stage of life I’m currently at. Growing up I read a lot of typical YA fiction including Judy Bloom, Paula Danziger (I never liked the tense that she wrote in) and pretty much all of the babysitters club books by Ann M Martin. By the time I got to uni I discovered fantasy and science fiction via my slightly gay boyfriend James. He was my next door neighbour and I remember seeing him in the garden reading Roger Zelazney’s Chronicles of Amber and deciding at that moment to sleep with him. So I did. (I then proceeded to read everything he owned and callously dumped him when I had finished. I’m not proud). My 20’s were a period of discovery and despite hating to travel I felt I had discovered a little of the world through Bill Bryson’s books. As I reached my 30’s I began to read more mid 20th century classics (predominantly by female authors) possibly because their main characters reflect my current housewife status. One book which really resonated with me is Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I thoroughly understood what it is like to live in someone else’s house with the ghost of a previous occupant (in my case, my boyfriend’s mother) haunting you as you make inadequate pastry and ineffectually clean the silverware (see previous posts about my current domestic situation).
In much the same way that the music that you liked growing up affected the friends that you made at school, the subsequent clubs and parties that you went to, the clothes you wore and the activities that you participated in, I’ve found that books can have the same effect. A few years ago my best friend met her new partner through a mutual friend. He was much younger, trendiest, with dreams of becoming an actor whilst working in a minimum wage job. He didn’t get our cultural references. He was totally different to my other, settled, 30 something friends. I had nothing in common with him. At a party, we began talking about films (he loves them, I’m fairly indifferent to most) which lead to a conversation about books and specifically, Neil Gaiman. Suddenly, all of his friends wanted to join in with their opinions. Amazingly, every single person there said “I love Neil Gaiman but… ” and proceeded to tell me why they loved some of his work but hated other parts. This lead to one of the geekiest, most intellectual group conversations ever held at a drunken get together. Surprisingly, we couldn’t agree on one single opinion. I hated American Gods but loved Neverwhere. Someone said it was the same story. Someone else disagreed vociferously. Someone said that American Gods was much more expansive. I said it was Neil Gaiman doing a Stephen King impression. No one agreed with me. People got animated. People got even more drunk. Everyone joined in. It was one of the best moments of my life.
My partner does not read. He has an academic job and says that as he reads scientific papers all day he wants a break when he gets home. I don’t understand this at all. He’s clearly missing out. Can a relationship between a reader and a non reader work? Does reading define me that much? I guess only time will tell. I’ll keep you updated.