Reading can be a sneaky business. Even now, I still get told, come on let’s DO something sometimes when I am ‘caught’ reading, as if reading is somehow a squandering of time without any proper focus or purpose, an indulgence whilst others concentrate on more important things. This furtive, private quality to reading and perhaps its perceived threat to the community or ‘company’ of others makes reading very special.
As a child, I used to hide books in the toilet, avoiding washing up and always getting to the end despite any number of guests! I remember finishing Alastair Maclean’s Bear Island instead of using a tea towel after a family gathering and then pretending to be surprised that I had missed all the fun. But when it came to a choice between Artic Circle murders by a person unknown or washing up, there was never any contest.
I know I was better at hiding books than my mother and Aunties were good at finding them. Occasionally I would get caught of course and would be marched off to the kitchen, the offending book held high and placed under guard until the chores were done. This secretive aspect to reading of course made me love reading even more. I still find reading a uniquely happy experience and find reading like writing mood changing and peaceful, no matter how dramatic or exciting the book.
Sharing books is important. Books gift of yourself, sometimes in ways that are surprising to others. And there are certain books that I would never lend out. Their going away from me would be felt almost physically- so I would rather buy another and give that instead.
What’s a holiday without a bag of books? I can mark holidays by the books I have read. They are better than photographs and the dates and sometimes the stains, even the handwriting style makes them witnesses to a particular time of my life.
One Inter-rail holiday was marked out by Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are Not the Only Fruit being passed around, battered but never cowed( it was the first Women’s Press edition complete with iron logo!) by the grubby depths of several rucksacks and the overpowering heat of Sicilly in August.
No one else can read like me or you. Reading confirms our uniqueness as well as suggesting that beyond our uniqueness lies the universal human condition, scrapping for attention and notice.
This series will look at Nine Booksthat changed my life and will begin tomorrow with Winterson’s novel The Passion, a novel practically perfect in every way and one I never had to hide in the toilet cistern!
How to analyse a text quickly!
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