On Reading

I don’t know what’s happened this year, but suddenly I’m reading again. I think it’s because I can. Does that sound strange? It’s not that I’ve just learned my alphabet or anything, or have progressed past See Spot run. Run, Spot, Run! rather that I’m not falling into bed exhausted at the end of every night and picking up a book and reading a page that makes no sense to me, even though I’d read the same page the night before, and possibly the night before that too.

And–here’s the cool thing–I’m reading whatever I feel like! Seriously! Amazing, isn’t it. Not what everybody on Facebook is recommending, not what’s #1 on the book shop bestseller list, just…what I feel like. And I’m not feeling guilty because I’m NOT reading things I’ve felt I “should” be. Huh? SHOULD be? Where did that even come from? I don’t know. But it’s been there. I walked past a bookshop the other day and had a quick browse through some novels on a table outside. There were some quality books, by names I recognised as top-notch authors. I picked up one or two of them and decided they looked boring. Just stuff about people doing regular things, and having regular lives. No magic, not to me.

Nobody saw me pick up those books, and nobody saw me put them down again, unread. Nobody at home is looking at the books I’m selecting from my To Be Read pile, and nobody is standing over my shoulder asking why I haven’t read theirs yet. My reading is mine. Boy it’s a good feeling. And, unsurprisingly really, my writing is sharpening too. The stories I want to tell are flowing more easily because I’m learning from writers who are doing the same thing as me. People say it all the time, write what you like to read. It’s true. It just took me a long while to get it going the other way round as well.

Is it just me? Have you ever felt judged by what you were reading were reading, even by yourself? 

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Books, love, and loyalty

I’m reading this book, right?

No, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because then I’ll have to be all sympathetic and encouraging, and you might be tempted to go and read it yourself. Or you may have read it already and you might shoot me down in flames in the sincere believe that it’s actually the best and most beautiful book ever written and nothing can ever surpass it’s greatness. And…in my humble opinion it’s not that great. And THAT, my friend, is the interesting thing.

I’m reading this book, right? And it’s not that great. And that’s interesting primarily because I want to keep reading it. Have you ever experienced that? I don’t think it’s the same if you’re one of those people who’s got all the time in the world to read books, or one of those people who diligently reads to the end of everything simply because you don’t like things left uncompleted. I am NOT one of those people (although I wish I was sometimes). I’ve long held the belief that if a book isn’t that great, or doesn’t grab me, or doesn’t threaten to stop me from breathing unless I read it NOW, or gets bypassed by something faster and more immediate, then I’ll happily put it down. And life is busy. I have a shelf  (yes, I had to graduate to an actual SHELF) next to my bed with a large pile of books on it–   many  of them excellent, highly acclaimed, wonderfully crafted tomes–that for various reasons I haven’t finished. They’re there because I will get back to them eventually, when life is calmer and time is richer and thicker than it is now, and when there’s more than a two-minute window when I put my head on that pillow before I fall asleep.

But then there’s this book.

The thing is, the thing that baffles me most about my inability to put it down and read something better, is that nothing actually happens. Nothing’s happened so far that I care about. No great story-questions, any will-she-or-won’t-she, are hanging over my head. No life or death situations. I can walk away any time I want…if I want…if I could.

See? My trouble is that I can’t.

It’s not so much that I’ve fallen in love, it’s just that I’ve…well…I’ve got involved. It’s like the lady at the bus stop who always tells you stories about her grown up kids who you’ve never met and have no particular affiliation with, but because you catch the same bus every day, and because SHE catches the same bus every day, on the weekends you find yourself wondering how those grown-up kids are going, and whether they will decide to send their son to a school a little further away, or buy that second car.

Should I care? Can’t help it. Just do. I’m human.

It’s like friends, I think. I’ve written here before about how my cat simply moved in to our lives and expected us to love her, and we did. People do that too–the mythical lady at the bus stop, for instance. And now, apparently, books.

There are books on the shelf next to my bed that I may never finish, and that saddens me in one way. Although in another way I’m pleased. Unfinished books are the friends I keep nestled close to my heart even though I may not see them regularly; the friends I know will always be there, and I can always come back to, no matter how far I travel. I love them for who they are, for what they’ve meant to me in the past, and I love them simply because they’re mine.

I wil finish this book I’m reading, I know it. But I’ll always keep these characters close to my chest, whether or like it or not, because somewhere in this reading process I began to think of them as friends. And, to tell you the truth, just as long as I don’t start thinking of my friends as storybook characters then that’s quite all right by me.

The dangers of honesty

Books are dangerous. Well, words are dangerous, and that’s what books are full of: words.

I blogged here about the power of words, and I blogged here about the book I was reading, so I won’t repeat myself today, except to say that that book triggered things in me that I truly wasn’t expecting. I don’t imagine the author would be expecting that kind of response from her book either, because the pyrotechnics inside of me had virtually nothing to do with what was happening in the narrative.

Has that ever happened to you? Is it just me? I have to confess, sometimes when I’m watching movies or TV I pay more attention to the set design than the plot. I can get a bit tangential at times (oh hello, like, possibly, now Megan?) and halfway through The Mentalist when my husband turns to me and says “do you have any ideas?” the first thing I want to answer is “Yes. Our mantelpiece would look great in that colour”.

ANYWAY…and back to the point…

The point is, there’s something about the power of true and honest words sent forth that unlock the true and honest words inside the person who receives them. Honesty begets honesty, if you like. Saying the truth about what’s happening inside you actually frees up other people to say the truth about what’s happening inside them as well. And often the truths are different, the what’s-happening is different, but the honesty, the vulnerability, the shapes of our soul are the same. And so are the fake words that wallpaper over the truth of who (and how) we really are. We buy the latest soul-covers from magazine lift-outs sometimes, and we change the language to reflect the trending décor, and all that is fine, it’s how we live and deal with the world on a daily basis. But there are times, like when some book is published without it’s hip-coloured, hot-textured soul-cover on and the sheer force of its nakedness blows off your own and you find yourself vulnerable and bare in the powerful face of true and honest words.

Words can be dangerous, and books can be dangerous because books are full of words. True words, honest words. Words that open us up on the inside, and words that heal the mess that’s lying dormant there. I’m going to do it again today – read a book, that is. I’m a wild risk-taker like that. What do you reckon, care to join me?