Saturday, 20 February 2010

My bad (reading) habits

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I have a confession to make. I would never be unfaithful to my husband, but I am rarely faithful to my books. I am a book slut - I am always reading more than one book at a time. I've done this since a child, and can hardly remember a time when I was faithful to only one.

I tend to have a deep and meaningful relationship with one book, while also having a casual affair with a number of others at the same time. At the moment, for example, my deep and meaningful relationship is with Marina Warner's "No Go the Bogeyman," which is about fear and fairy-tales. I felt like I should read something a bit more analytical and intelligent, which I haven't done in a while, and it is quite rare for me to read something that is non-fiction. I am only a few pages in at the moment, so it is still too early in the relationship to make a commitment.

At the same time, though, I am having an occasional, casual flirtation with "Stephen Fry in America" (this is the book title, not the location of our affair - although this might be an interesting fantasy to consider). I am having an intense, passionate fling with "It's Only a Movie" by Mark Kermode (with whom I have been a bit obsessed recently). And lastly I am also reading "The Library of Shadows" by Mikkel Birkegaard (part of a Christmas present pack of books from a friend which, whether consciously or not, had a distinctly Scandinavian theme - also including Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell). "The Library of Shadows" was only meant to be a fling, but is turning into a deeper, more meaningful relationship than I expected. I might even consider leaving Marina Warner for Mikkel Birkegaard.

My duplicitous reading nature is not my only bad habit (I have many - but I'm concentrating on literary ones here). I probably don't read as thoroughly as I should. I am rather a skim reader. This might be a sign of increasing age and decreasing attention span, although I think I have always done it. This might also be down to reading too many thrillers and getting swept along with the story, wanting to know what happens next. I do tend to re-read books and notice new layers in them - but you could argue that, if I read in a more considered way, I would notice more first time round and would then have more time to read new books.

I also read a fair amount of fiction that is entertaining but has no real literary value - although I would chose to defend this. When I was at university, I remember being told by a couple of people that they could no longer just read something trashy. I found that quite sad. There is a lot of pleasure to be had from going along with a good story, being compelled to know what happens next. Maybe if I read in more analytical detail, I might enjoy the ride a bit less.

This leads on to one habit that I have, which I think really annoys my husband. If I am addicted to a book - if I don't want to put it down but life gets in the way and means that I have to - then I will peek forward a few pages to see what happens. Right now I am thinking of Billy Crystal's character in "When Harry Met Sally," who always skips to the end because he worries that he might die, mid-book, not knowing what happens. My reasons aren't that fatalistic. I try to resist, but my willpower is too weak. He bought me an e-reader last year - and I secretly suspect that this might be because it is harder to skip ahead. And also because I already have way too many books.

Actually you can never have too many books.

I think I know why I was never really meant to stay in academia. I never really got literary theory - it always seemed to obfuscate more than elucidate; seemed to be an exercise in showing off that was beyond the limits of my brain power. The most important thing to me was always whether I liked something - which is solipsistic and completely indefensible in academic terms.

It has also just occurred to me that I said I rarely read non-fiction - but 3 out of the 4 books I am currently reading are non-fiction. So you can maybe add being an unreliable narrator to my list of bad literary habits.

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