26 August 2012
books I haven't read
No? Just me, then?
Oh well. Never mind.
I've had my nose in a book, on and off, for the past thirty years or so, and am currently in the regrettable position of having to limit the number of delicious specimens that might be offered a permanent home with us because we've run out of of shelf space for the time being. Even if I didn't live next door to a library, I'd be utterly spoilt for reading choice. Some women collect shoes or scarves or handbags: I accumulate books (and, more often than is desirable, library fines).
But just at the moment, as time and energy are short, I tend to stick to the same few, well-loved titles, and reread them over and over again. They're familiar. I know I love them. There's something for every occasion and mood. But there are also plenty that remain ignored and neglected: books that I bought on sale or impulse or recommendation and never got around to devouring. The occasion of my marriage almost a decade ago brought many additional gems into my life; I can only think of one title we duplicated upon merging our book collections, and that was The Beach by Alex Garland. Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels (his) now huddle cheek-by-jowl alongside Anne of Green Gables (mine). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance lives next to Joanna Trollope's The Choir. And, if I'm honest, I've probably read about half of the books to which I give house room. So much for being a prolific reader!
Yesterday I was browsing Holly Lisle's website. She's an author, and has published a list of almost four hundred recommended books that every writer should read, pointing out that no act of reading is ever wasted because you always learn something from what you have read. The genre, plot, setting, period, characters, themes and even quality of prose are largely irrelevant because there's always a lesson to be learned somewhere. As I scrolled down the list and realised how many books I hadn't read and how many fantastic titles there are to be savoured, I was reminded of the extensive collection sitting patiently on my own bookshelves. A Tale of Two Cities? Got it; haven't read it. The Time Traveller's Wife? Borrowed it off a friend; haven't started it. Lord of the Flies? Contributed by Ben and gracing a recent GCSE English syllabus, there is no excuse for this one to have remained unread thus far. And so on and so on and so on.
You'll understand now why I'm reluctant to complete Facebook assessments of my reading habits, since they are demonstrably lacking in substance at present. But at least I've identified this shortcoming of mine, and plan to rectify the situation forthwith. Better late than never!
So, starting yesterday, I've decided to plow my way through at least a few chapters of every book in the house, which should keep me gainfully employed and out of mischief for a good few years. Already engaged in rereading Jodi Picoult's The Pact, I've returned to Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head, and earmarked Catch-22 as my next target. Hopefully I'll learn a great deal from genres and subjects and authors I wouldn't normally even consider. I'm particularly apprehensive about cracking open the first science fiction novel for fear of being confronted with my own extraordinary stupidity, but am hopeful of enlightenment when the time comes, even if someone ends up having to concoct an Idiot's Guide to Sci-Fi for me.
I'd love to hear your top five recommendations for must-read books, whether they are titles you haven't been able to put down or - if you are a writer as well as a reader - stories that have influenced your own ideas and creations and thoughts.
Please share - your suggestions will be enormously appreciated as I embark upon my challenge!