“What is it you read”, someone asked. "Any favourite authors? What are you currently reading?”
The sort of questions anyone asks when it comes to discussing books.
“I hardly know,” Roger said. "I just read and read, very fast, one book down and another started. I really am a very fast reader. Ask me what I’ve read and I find it hard to tell you.” I know from discussing books with Roger’s wife that both of them tend to go for thrillers, fantasy and blockbusters. Roger is an intelligent man, has successfully held down an important and well-paid job in business, and is an active member of the Valley’s End community.
Everyone at the table tried to keep a straight face as Roger was digging himself deeper and deeper into his reading matter hole. I saw an embarrassed smirk appear on the face of his table neighbour who is a writer herself. His wife, sitting opposite me, was trying to shush him, obviously feeling that he was showing a side of himself that didn’t reflect well on them. Roger plowed merrily on, oblivious of the reaction around the table.
When Roger stopped to draw breath, the host’s son, who had cooked us an excellent meal providing equally good and plentiful wine, (possibly partly the reason for Roger’s lack of inhibition and poor self-awareness) intervened by saying “I am a very slow reader, very slow indeed. I even leave gaps between books. Mind you, I usually remember what I’ve read; titles, authors, content, message, if there is one, and the impression the book has left on me. But, as I said, I am very slow about it."
Lucky you, I thought. Although by no means a Roger type of reader, I frequently forget the names of authors, titles of books, although I can usually put a story to the memory of a book. Since Beloved’s death I have been an avid reader, even more so than previously, going for slighter and lighter stories rather than sad and tragic ones, and yes, I have, at times, been reading the comfortable kind of thriller which demands little attention. The only thing I insist on is that the writing is good and the editing has been done carefully. And I can foresee a time when more nourishing fare will be on the reading menu again. In fact, my diet is already becoming more substantial.
What’s the point of reading like Roger? Surely even a rubbishy novel has to offer more than instant gratification, a mere way of passing the time? Too many writers produce the same story over and over again, no wonder the people who read them can’t keep track. I went into a bookshop the other day, the first time since I have had the cataracts removed from both eyes, just “to have a look”. I was planning to get rid of some books, not buy more, but, alas, that’s easier said than done; I bought a small pile, not a blockbuster among them. The gift of renewed eyesight is just too precious to waste it.
By the way, I was also going to express my appreciation of my hosts at this dinner: they asked me on my own and did not feel it necessary to provide me with a table partner. Thanks very much!