Last week, I sat down to peruse the rather large Summer Reading Guide from Melbourne’s Readings Bookshop. In one hand I had a big purple marker, and I proceeded to circle every item that gave me that that little thrill that I’m sure all readers know. My plan was to leave it lying around for my husband to find for a little Christmas present inspiration. It was a strategy I learnt from a dear friend in Nashville, Tennessee, who had never quite recovered from receiving an egg timer from her husband for their first Christmas together. He’s now her ex-husband. While his constant drinking was a factor in their eventual separation, I am pretty sure the egg timer also played it’s part. But I digress, as I often do.
Back to the reading guide. My final selection came to nine titles. I needed to narrow it down, but how could I choose one title over another?
It is fortuitous then that one of these selections was mentioned in a New York Times article about reading. My decision was made.
The book is Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. In it, the Queen suddenly becomes an obsessive reader after reading Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. The NYT article discusses reasons why some people become voracious readers. Can everyone do it? Is the secret just a matter of having the right book at the right time in one’s life?
“It can be like a drug in a positive way,” said Daniel Goldin, general manager of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee. “If you get the book that makes the person fall in love with reading, they want another one.”
Award winning author Sherman Alexie is also quoted in the piece, speaking about Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day”.
Mr. Alexie said “The Snowy Day” transformed him from someone who read regularly into a true bookhound. “I really think it’s the age at which you find that book that you really identify with that determines the rest of your reading life,” Mr. Alexie said. “The younger you are when you do that, the more likely you’re going to be a serious reader. It really is about finding yourself in a book.”
Was a truer word ever spoken?
A note as to why book selection is so crucial for me. A book to me is like watching a film, or sitting down to a nice meal. It is to be done in one sitting. It doesn’t matter if it is broken down into neat chapters. When I start a book, I read it until it is finished. When I read, the kids eat tinned spaghetti, live in their pyjamas, and have been known to reach early stage dreadlocks. Therefore I am very careful about starting a book, reserving it almost exclusively for when my husband is on leave. Fortunately he is very understanding of my love affair with reading, being a reader himself (who is content with a chapter a day).
Why am I happy to admit to this bizarre behaviour? Because I know I am not alone. Many years ago I read an article in The Age newspaper about a woman who did not read for over thirty years, for the exact same reason. She waited for all her children to grow and leave home.
Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy has been sitting, unopened, on my shelf for four years. I am waiting until I have the required number of days available to me to read it. With my youngest child about to turn 2, it won’t be any time soon.