The pile beside my bed is growing taller every week. There’s another on the table in the hall, another towering stack in the family room, and of course there’s the overcrowded bookshelves where the unread tomes clamour for attention among those already read and loved.
So many books, so little time. Sometimes to get a sense that I am working my way through the pile more efficiently I dip in and out of several books at once, enjoying a narrative here; a theoretical discussion there. But for me the best way to read a book is in one sitting, in several hours of being lost to the story, the characters and the mood of a book. When it’s finished there is always that slight sense of loss and sadness, but the delicious satisfaction of having stolen away from this life and its concerns to another place and time.
Recently I read Catcher in the Rye this way. I’d read it years ago and wondered what all the fuss was about. This time I read it with my breath caught in my throat and emotion rising in my chest. J D Salinger’s writing captures the despair, shock, guilt and confusion of his protagonist Holden Caulfield so beautifully and so cleverly. As I read I am by turns caught by his words, and then next by the story.
There are so many incredible stories, so many amazing writers and powerful, important, compelling or delightfully entertaining books.
I read an article recently in which the author bemoaned how few books he could hope to get through in his remaining lifetime. He guessed that at one book a week, he could consume roughly 50 books a year – not much I think when I look at those teetering book sculptures beside my bed.
Maybe the advent of digital books will make reading something we can fit better into our busy lives? But somehow the reading is less rich for me when done on a small screen without the experience of holding a book, turning its pages and breathing in its papery scent. Maybe I’m old-fashioned?
Years ago when I worked as an editor at The Age newspaper in Melbourne I caught the train to and from the city each day, giving me a glorious hour each way to escape into a book. The downside was the weeping and laughing I did in public, but it was a golden time for filling my head with stories and ideas.
Reading another’s words creates a unique relationship between you and that author – no one else will read those words and create the images and associations that you do. Your relationship with any given book is unique.
At the Melbourne Writer’s Festival a few years ago a keen would-be author in the crowd asked a guest speaker why they should even bother chasing a literary career when surely all the stories had already been told, all the ideas exhausted?
“Yes,” the speaker replied, “millions of stories have already been told, but no one has yet heard yours.”
Clearly with all the books already waiting to be read, and new voices and stories emerging each day, we will all have to find new and creative ways to fit more words in to every day.