Unless you’re an English Literature student or a Holocaust denier, you probably read for enjoyment. If you’re a book blogger, you probably do that in order to spread the joy of those books you read; well, or you’re trying to find someone who shares your interest given that most of your time is spent inside with people who don’t exist and you’ve forgotten how to make real friends (hey, that’s my excuse…). However you look at it, books are a source of release or relief to you, a fount of fascination and excitement that can and should be shared with others that they might spread that love and you can somehow become wealthy, or at least get some free review copies, on the back of it.
Noble aims, aims I both celebrate and promote, but let’s not overlook the fact that some books are shite. It comes down to personal tastes, obviously – for whatever reason, a stone-cold classic fails to fan the flames of your heart, or Matthew Reilly’s full bore insanity doesn’t quite tickle your fancy in the manner intended – but it remains an inevitability: someone who claims to enjoy everything they read is either a) lying or b) illiterate. To take a recent example, John Williams’ Stoner has enjoyed an unprecedented resurgence in interest, and at the time of writing has 660 five-star reviews on Amazon; I tried to read it this summer and cannot believe that ink was wasted on reprinting that which would have been far better utilised by those hateful weekly celebrity ‘gossip’ atrocities in pointing out that a woman in her fifties has cellulite or an older rich man has a younger partner, and I say that as someone who considers those magazines a threat to the toilet paper industry.
In the folly of my youth I would struggle through anything no matter how turgid; at university that changed – I can still remember the first book I gave up on, 100 pages in, and the feeling of doubt that plagued me for weeks afterwards that maybe I was one page, maybe five pages, maybe thirty pages away from it really taking off. As I get older, as life intrudes and limits the number of books I can read in a year and therefore the number I can devour in my days that remain, it has become less of a problem. I still feel a twinge of doubt every now and then, because I’ll never know how it might have turned out, but on the whole I’m happy with giving up. I know me and my tastes pretty well, and if it’s not working then it’s not working.
To normal, well-adjusted people such as yourself this isn’t a big deal. A lack of enjoyment was the reason you stopped attending those yoga classes, stopped listening to your spouse telling you about their day. To me, however, the ability to put down a book – to give up on a world, to refuse to realise the potential contained within those pages, to cease that interaction with the characters – is still something of a revelation. It doesn’t always feel like it at the time, being accompanied as it is by a forceful “Oh, for god’s sake” and a slamming of covers, but there’s something empowering about making that choice, about deciding for myself that my reading will be fun and that anything that is not fun will not be read.
Obviously it’s not giving up on books per se, I’d much rather they be enjoyable and so I am able to finish them, but being reminded that I have a choice in what I read is important to me. My books are important to me, I’d be a fool to have spent the time and money on them that I have were that not the case; reading is important to me, the space it buys amid the flurry of everyday life makes a tremendous difference; but something being important doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be enjoyable, shouldn’t be an escape, shouldn’t be light and effortless and easy to neglect from time to time. And so the decision to give up on a book will always be a source of fascination for me, even if I might be wrong every now and again.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I shall not be posting a review of Gaston Leroux’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black this coming Wednesday. You may draw your own conclusions.