Sorry I haven’t been around much this past week. Yet another set of medicaments went rogue on me last weekend and as a result today is the first day I haven’t felt as if I’d just done ten rounds with the world heavyweight champion and comprehensively lost. I’m now on the last possible set of tablets before surgery becomes the only remaining option, so, as you might imagine, there is much crossing of paws going on in the TIF household.
As well as neglecting all my blogging friends I’ve also fallen hopelessly behind in my reading commitments for book groups and have found myself with only three days in which to read Michèle Roberts’ superb novel Daughters of the House.
In fact, the book is relatively short and so I picked it up this morning thinking that a weekend with a fairly blank diary was going to be ample time in which to finish it and indeed that is so. But, the experience has brought me back to a question that has been lurking in the nether regions of my mind for some time now, namely, what constitutes reading? With only seventy pages left and a nice peaceful day in front of me tomorrow there is no doubt but that come Monday’s meeting I will have read all the words, what is more, I may even have recognised that they are good words and very thoughtfully ordered, but whether or not I will have anything more than the sketchiest appreciation of the deeper meaning that results from the multitude of choices that Roberts has made in the selection and placing of those words is another matter entirely.
All too often these days I find myself racing through a book in order to get to the next one in the pile. And, in doing so, I miss out on pretty much everything except what happens to who, when. I didn’t use to read like this. I have notebooks full of the comments I made as I spent time thinking about what I was reading and relishing making the connections between ideas and the way in which the author had chosen to give them shape. And these aren’t notebooks I kept on books I was reading for study or for teaching, but simply the books I was reading for pleasure and to which I was giving the time that each one merited.
Anyone who has taught small children will recognise the phenomena of which this is simply a more ‘grown-up’ version. There is all the difference in the world between a child who is merely reading the words and the one who is actually engaging with the meaning and becoming involved with the action. Did I labour for almost forty years to ensure that children came to enjoy that deeper level of involvement only to fall foul myself to the temptation to simply get through the pages as quickly as possible?
I’m not certain why this has happened. Is it that as I get older I am beginning to hear ‘time’s winged chariot’ calling to me and urging me to read as much as I can while I still have the opportunity? Is it that as I become more involved with other readers I am more aware of books out there that I desperately want to find time to read? If that’s the case then it’s your fault and I am going to put the blame fairly and squarely on your shoulders where it so obviously belongs! I don’t know what the reason is, but I know I don’t like it.
I suspect that part of the reason is that reading for more than the words is a habit, that when I stopped teaching I stopped having to practise that habit on a daily basis and as a consequence have lost it. Would that bad habits were as easy to kick! Perhaps the answer, then, is to treat each book for a book group as one that I have to teach, even when it isn’t my turn to lead the meeting. Or would that make me appear to be an insufferable no-it-all, intent on making everyone else seem unprepared? Maybe I should tear up my library card and only read books that I am willing to buy? Now that would definitely cut down on the number of books that came into the house and Jolyon Bear (he who looks after the finances) would certainly make sure that I got every last shred of meaning out of every single word, but I’ve had a library card as long as I can remember and destroying it would feel rather like killing a favourite child. I don’t think I could do that.
It is a quandary and I suspect one that others may have encountered before me. So, on the grounds that you may indeed be partially to blame, what can you suggest as a solution? How do you deal with the temptation to count the quantity rather than feel the quality? Is there an answer or am I a lost cause?