Last Wednesday I ran into a brick wall. Not literally, you will be reassured to hear, but as those of you who also suffer from fatigue related illnesses will appreciate, the figurative collision can be every bit as debilitating. So things have been rather quite here for the last few days and will continue to be somewhat truncated until I have gathered my energies again.
This drop in energy levels couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment as not only do I have to read Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies by next Wednesday, but I’d also committed myself to re-reading Wolf Hall, as I was sure I would need to re-orientate my brain to the characters that people the world of Thomas Cromwell. I’m pretty well up on the major players on the political field. It was the Cromwell household I thought I was going to need to revise. And I was right. I’m sure I’ve enjoyed the second book better for having re-aquainted myself with the first.
The only reason that I haven’t read Bring Up the Bodies any sooner is that I knew well in advance that it was going to turn up on a book group list and I was trying to avoid yet another re-read in that area. However, last night I was browsing through one of Nick Hornby’s collected essays from The Believer and came across this passage:
I spent a long time resisting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because I got sent about fifteen copies, by publishers and agents and magazines and newspapers, and it made me recalcitrant and reluctant, truculent, maybe even perverse.
Hornby had been sent these books because his son is autistic and, rightly or wrongly, it is assumed that he will want to read about a child who has Aspergers Syndrome. And, because he is expected to want to read it, he rebels.
As I say, this isn’t the reason that I have put off reading the latest Mantel, but it might well have been. And, if it had, it certainly wouldn’t have been the first time I have resisted reading something simply because the rest of the world (or so it seems) is telling me that I must. I have a sort of perverse reaction to any book that is sweeping the country as the latest must read. Thank goodness I met Harry Potter at the moment when that first book was released or I might never have known the joys of Hogwarts and all its many and varied inhabitants.
The trouble with adopting this attitude is that you do miss some pretty good books along the way, a conclusion that Hornby, having finally read Mark Haddon’s novel, would endorse. The first time that I was really aware of this perversity of mine was forty years ago in the summer of 1973. If you were around then you will remember that the book everyone was reading was Richard Adams’ Watership Down. Well, I was not going to read a novel about a cartload of rabbits. Sorry, but I do have some standards.
I was living, that summer, in a caravan on the banks of the Avon and I was surrounded by rabbits, at least first thing in a morning and later as dusk began to draw in, and gradually the pressure of public opinion and the baleful looks of the local wildlife broke down my reserve. I gave in and enjoyed what I still think is a remarkable book.
Sometimes, you know, you just have to accept that everyone else has got it right and stop being such a pig-headed fool. So, is anyone else out there willing to admit that they have behaved in the same recalcitrant and reluctant, truculent, maybe even perverse manner, I wonder? And if so, what books would you have missed if you’d continued to dig in your heels?