As someone learning the craft of writing, and leaving it rather late to do so, I need to read widely, and read writing of good quality so that I may learn from it. It was inevitable I would become a neurotic reader.
Anyone with a passion for books has or will come to the realisation that they only have about two thousand goes at it in their life.
Assuming they start at sixteen, read till they’re eighty six (yes I’m lazy) and average a book every two weeks, then, with a few reading spurts, they’ll get through two thousand books. If they’re really really diligent they could do another five hundred, but I’m allowing for the curveballs life throws at us (parenthood, going outside occasionally, TV box sets, not actually starting to read at sixteen or finishing at eighty six etc.)
This understanding has taken its time to sink in. There are actually more than two thousand books out there worth reading. Who knew!
I get books recommended to me all the time, ‘Best of’ lists in newspapers, from friends, reviews, even just following my nose on Goodreads.
Then there are the hundreds of thousands more being self-published. The list of books is growing at a rate far exceeding anyone’s capacity to read an infinitesimal fraction of them.
At some point in the next year or so my book will add its own bead of sweat to the ocean, splashing about and shouting to be heard against the vastness reaching up, stretching painfully to grab a flicker of attention from the readers hovering above this multimillion course meal.
I realise that to ask anyone to give me a slot in their personal canon is a gift of the most valuable resource any of us possess. Time. And not just time, but spare time.
The concept of spare time fled me intellectually during my twenties, then practically during my thirties and beyond. The feeling of mortality casts a long beam of light through the tectonically slow shift of self from a nervous wreck behind The Wall to this fully paid up member of Imposter Syndromes Anonymous, winging my days with little more than some post it notes and trust and my evenings with a blunt moral toolkit suitable for 7yr olds and over.
Once I get on the bus I must read, or the time is wasted. I eat my sandwiches at my desk, getting up on current affairs, and writing, or the time is wasted. On the way home I’m planning my evening, while reading, or the time is wasted. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds; I’ve got a wife to love, kids to raise, novels to write, books to read, miles to run and all around the eight hours a day I spend in work.
Now, when I’m browsing all the titles recommended to me, I’m almost paralysed by the need to choose something good, no, great. I feel guilty indulging in more than one work by a writer, because I could be sampling another that gives me a new perspective, new delight, each one leaving me with one less option on all future books, one less recommendation to follow up on.
A reader is a humbling gift. Learning how to reward the reader is the essence of this vocation. Who has most rewarded you?