Wrapped up in books

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It’s been one of those impossibly grey, dreich days today. This morning, I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t still a bit too warm for wearing tights, but put them on anyway. I was sad to discover that it wasn’t. Is autumn upon us? So soon? I love autumn but I am not quite ready to give up the hope of warmth – only yesterday afternoon it was pleasantly toasty in the afternoon.

Today was not a day for adult life, but I forced myself alive and into the office. After a busy morning, I went for a stroll in the rain at lunchtime, and encountered one of those bursting to escape feelings. I was all for taking to Queen Street station and boarding a train for somewhere quiet, misty and northern. Somehow I made it safely back to work. Whilst eating my sandwich at my desk, I made the mistake of browsing the news. Every headline utterly depressing.  But amidst the gloom that is life on planet earth today, I was completely tickled by this article about the discrepancy between the books we love to read and the ones we like to be seen to be reading. There is a huge amount of snobbery about the artistic merit of successful writers like Stephen King.

The Kindle has liberated us from worrying about what others think of our reading habits, and we can now read anything we like, at any time, with only shoulder over lookers to worry about. The amazon top 20 kindle downloads shows a different view to The Times bestseller list. Still some good intelligent reads, but also easy going popular fare. And of course, all of the dark stuff: true and made up crime, horror and fantasy. And the growth in erotica, easy for anyone to access, especially older, more embarrassed women who just wouldn’t pick up 50 Shades in Tesco, alongside the shopping.

Although you might think there’s generally a time and place for that sort of thing. Not something you’ll encounter on the way to work in the morning. But sometimes a random sex scene pops into your book, which is a nightmare if you know the person next to you on public transport can see what you’re reading. I was astonished the other day at a matronly lady, in the seat in front of me on the number 6 bus. She had a large print kindle, and she had clearly stumbled into a scene where the manly hero was seducing the heroine. Let’s just say there was an extended period of firm magnificence and heaving mounds.

What impressed me most was the woman’s stony calmness in reading it. Not a flicker.  That’s how you have to handle these situations, when it becomes clear that you are reading pornography at 8:30am. I remember the squeamish embarrassment of that, years ago on the London tube; before 9am, I was reading Glue by Irvine Welsh when it descended into an absolutely filthy sex scene. I have no idea whether the guy next to me was actually reading it or not, but it was a very awkward ten minutes. All you can do is keep calm and keep going, until your story moves into less saucy waters.

Sex stuff aside, as the article suggests, it’s more about cultural snobbery and intended perception. There are books they tell us, that we should read. If they are too ‘difficult’, most of us will not read them, although we might buy them and leave them lying around for intellectual validation. And by difficult, I mean academic and dull. People can grasp complex ideas if they are explained well. There are books of fiction we ‘should’ read, according to the middlebrow newspapers; some of which I have enjoyed, some not tried, some I would avoid. It was always amusing to see what people were reading on the tube in those pre-kindle days; you could observe trends, and admire men based on their book choices

I’m a terrible book worm and always have been, often caught reading by lamplight after lights out in my childhood. And an avid reader of both what would be perceived as good and bad books. Or trash and serious. I like both, as long as the ‘trash’ is written well and above average for the genre. I have read so much, yet only skimmed the surface of all the good things to read.

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This picture is of the stack of books next to my bed; only a few started and unread, the rest old faithful comfort reads, or recent discoveries, finished but not moved. It’s a genuine picture, not doctored for the internet! I am ridiculously untidy; there are other books along the top shelf of the bed too.  I would never consider a day spent doing nothing but reading, as a wasted day. There is a flat full of books, sometimes purged, but always renewed. The Kindle has helped space-wise, and I mainly restrict the buying of physical books now to favourite authors, or special offers on books that look beautiful, or those that I suspect I will love and want to physically thumb.

eBooks are brilliant, take up no room, and allow for the relatively private indulgence of all things deviant and indulgently us. But they can never replace the thrill of the first crack in the spine of a thick book, that you know will become a favourite. Pressing a button is not the same as turning pages. The smell of books, old and new is lost.

Nostalgia aside, the kindle has much to recommend it, not least the variety of reading options you can have for the size of a wallet. And the privacy element as mentioned before. My kindle is stuffed full of ‘good’ things that l like to dip in and out of: essays by David Foster Wallace, David Sedaris and Norah Ephron. Modern novelists like Sarah Waters and Ali Smith.  So far, so happy to show the book on the train. Psychological stuff like Oliver Burkeman and Brene Brown. A bit self improvementy, but still okay…then hmmm, slightly overgrown teenager stuff in the shape of Philip Pullman.

But then, more embarrassingly, things like Jilly Cooper, Shirley Conran (Lace!) and Marian Keyes. Stuff that is funny and downright escapist enjoyment. It’s terrible to admit that I would be embarrassed to sit with one of them in book form. Books like that are my guilty pleasure and take me back to my early teens and reading third hand, the books our neighbour lent my mother. Writers such as Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Barbara Taylor Bradford. I used to love the excessive travel to glamorous locations, the feisty heroines and the descriptions of sex, which I hadn’t come close to yet. Stirring stuff.

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So, it’s late, what’s my point? Well, never mind if it’s a paperback, an ebook or a library book, just don’t forget to read a book, as many different ones as you can. Yes, there is time. It’s called turn off the fucking TV and read a good book time.

Until next time,

QL.

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