I’m a serial monogamist.
I’m a one at a time kind of girl and I always have been. Sometimes I go through them quite quickly and you’ll think I’m fickle because my current favourite changes like seasonal ice cream flavours, but then I suppose that’s the nature of flitting from one to the next so frequently. But there are constants. The ones I always come back to, like the tide returning to the shore. Those are the real favourites. Comfort flavours.
I rarely, if ever, cheat.
I won’t say I’ve never cheated. That’s not true and I don’t like to lie.
But I haven’t done it often. I tried it though, like so many people do.
The truth is, I really do just prefer having one at a time. There’s such pleasure in losing yourself entirely in just one – the experience is sweet and to be savoured, only this, right now, entirely, fleeting, soon to be over. But while you’re here nothing is better and there is nothing I want more than this one. Just this one. Nothing else.
I’m talking about books.
I’m talking about the particular, delicious, sensual and sometimes erotic pleasure in losing yourself in one single world. And when it’s a world you so want to explore, that’s where true magic lies. If you’re lucky it will be a trilogy or a series and you’ll have more time. But it will end. It always does. You can’t go on with it forever. They always end, as they must.
I become envious of people who are making their discoveries for the first time. There isn’t anything like it. The element of surprise, the sheer joy of reading a book for the first time, one you’re really enjoying, is almost too much to bear. I think that’s part of the conflict while I read them. There’s one voice in my head telling me to slow down, while another (far more frequently victorious) is already planning how I’m going to irresponsibly stay up all night to get to the end.
I become giddy with the joy of it. It bubbles up inside me at this beautiful, fictional place and the fact that I’ve got permission to be there. Me? Yes, me! I’m invited to indulge in the delights in these pages and I want them all now please but I don’t want it to end. I must know what happened. But I really don’t want it to end. I can’t not know. But then it will be over and I’ll have no more left but I’ll wish so hard that I did. And I always feel bereft when I do, inevitably, reach the final page.
There’s a kind of superiority borne from this virgin-envy. I find myself becoming snooty. Consoling myself with placatory platitudes: “she won’t love it as much as I do”, “don’t worry, he won’t understand the full implications of the ending”, “it’s ok, it won’t speak to any of them as much as it did to me.”
I hate book groups. I can’t stand them. Reading, for me, is so intensely personal. I don’t want you to tell me what to read this week or next week or any other week. I’m selfish with my reading. It’s for me. We can recommend books to each other, but I’ll never expect you to read something because I don’t read when expected to. I read because I want to. I don’t want you to take away what I’ve seen here in this book that I love, in this world that I’ve found, by discussing it to death with pre-prepared questions that are so annoyingly inane, a child would be insulted by them. I find it unbearable to plan to dissect something that is so beautiful.
It’s my reading. Don’t force me share it. Don’t make me cheat on it with you or with another book that you’ve said I must read because the group voted and democracy rules, or because it’s Sally’s turn to choose but Sally has terrible taste and we all know it but everyone gets a turn. Let me instead open up a bit of myself and choose to give it to you as a gift. It will be a shy offering, and as I open that door and let myself back into that world, this time with you holding my hand, you’ll see my eyes look somewhere past you and my face light up and it’s like the sun is shining or like I’m visiting an old friend…because that’s what is happening. I’m visiting a friend. More than a friend. A lover – one I think of and remember fondly.
I love to read. It’s one of my life’s greatest pleasures. To sit and take in a world of words from somebody else’s beautiful mind.
I love to read books one at a time. To know that I’m giving myself totally to them for the time that I’m discovering them. To give them the respect that they deserve. To be only in that world, entirely immersed and surrounded by new sights, new voices, a small universe captured in words on pages…that is something that I feel is a privilege and it fills me with joy, excitement and a visceral pleasure.
I’m a serial monogamist. But only with books.
This was written September 2012:
I recently went to a book talk. Yes I know, I’m in my 20s and I go to book talks, settle down, I love books. Now this was not my first book talk nor do I imagine will it be my last. This particular one was like a lot of book talks in that it was promoting the release of a new book by the author – Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson – and unlike a lot of book talks in that the conversation, between Mr Jacobson and his agent, Jonny Geller, did not solely revolve around the writing of said book.
The talk was far more interesting than that. It was set up in the style of Desert Island Discs but it was Desert Island Books. Mr Jacobson took us through the books he would choose to take with him to a desert island in one of the most fascinating talks by a writer I have ever been to. Mr Jacobson took us through Dr Johnson, Jane Austen, D H Lawrence, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad into the depths of his childhood, be it real or reimagined, through relationships with people, writers and books and right up to the writing of his own literature. It was a literary journey told in the most compelling way, by a charismatic man who is passionate about the reading and writing of books.
I was at times literally on the edge of my seat. I was enthralled. But when the floor was opened for questions, I noticed something interesting. I recognised the archetypes of the people who frequent these book talks. The phrase “there’s always one” came to my mind for almost every person who asked a question. Why are there these people who seem to play the same roles at this type of event? Why is it they always feel the need to speak, to repeat the same patterns? Here are the people I have found at book talks, over and over again:
The Furious Note-Taker:
He or she will sit with a pad and pen, scribbling down every word the author utters, occasionally leaning over to you to ask “what did he say?” when something utterly crucial or insignificant has been missed because the note-taking has overtaken concentration. The sad thing about this is that this person has missed the point of a book talk. It’s not supposed to be a lecture – it’s a show to be experienced and a good book talk will provide a show, keep you engaged and stop your pen on your pad because you’re being made to think in the moment. This person may have the talk verbatim on their pad but he or she will have missed out on experiencing the character that is the author.
The Unpublished Author:
This person will come up with any question they can think of, however irrelevant and moronic, just to mention the fact that he or she is an unpublished author. “Um, hello, my name is Sam Smith and I have read a couple of your books, this new one too, somewhat enviously of course because I myself am a writer, as yet unpublished but I’m not bitter or anything and I was just wondering, with regard to your book, my question is: what is…the time? Also here is my manuscript, please read it or get your agent to read it, you have to take it now because we’re in front of all these people aren’t I clever for foisting this upon you.”
The One Who Has Read Everything:
This is the person who has read every book, essay and article by the writer. This is the person who claims to know the books better than the writer himself and will ask the longest, most complicated question in the most elaborate language, taking the most circuitous route to ask a very complicated and important philosophical question about the writer’s style, philosophy, belief, tone, structure, essence of being. This person is pretentious. Most people stop listening after the fourth sentence and even the writer begins to look bemused after the ninth. This person is obviously a thinker and intelligent. Unfortunately this person is actually trying very hard to be a thinker and thinks he or she is more intelligent than is actually the case. This person will not get a satisfactory answer to the question and will try to argue a moot point until somebody smart and in control of proceedings moves the questioning on.
The One Who Has Read Nothing:
This person has not read anything by the author and announces this very proudly before asking something about the state of education and literacy in this country that the author cannot possibly hope to know.
The One Who Reveals Too Much:
This person is a tricky one. On the one hand he or she is incredibly brave for being so candid and honest in a public environment. On the other, he or she is socially naïve for revealing so much about his or her life and being so candid and honest in a public environment. This is the person who reveals his or her very personal reading experience, often (but not always) relating to the death of a relation and usually involving tears. It is both moving and painfully awkward to listen to and feels a lot like it should be a private conversation between the writer and the reader – something to go up and speak about afterwards, not announce in front of the other 100 people. The room is left feeling an odd mix of social distaste and human respect.
I wonder which of these categories I fit into. I asked a question, I took a couple of notes down about things that made me think and to all intents and purposes I am an unpublished writer. I’ve not written a novel nor do I have any intention of writing one but I feel that is beside the point. Maybe I’m “The One Who Goes Home and Writes a Blog About It”. I’m sure there are more like me. I’m not judging any of these people nor am I suggesting I’m any better than them. I’m obviously one of them in some way and in fact, I’m rather fond of them. There is a comfort in knowing that someone will plug their unpublished novel, talk nonsense at the author or reveal too much of themselves. There is a comfort in the familiarity of it all. I wonder exactly who these people are? Perhaps it’s just the same few, going to all the book talks…
…No that’s ridiculous of course it’s not. But maybe there’s a novel in that.