I’m sure we all know the old saying that someone’s eyes are bigger than their stomach. It is probably especially appropriate at this time of year when too many of us habitually pile our plates with more food than we can ever reasonably hope to eat – and yes, Bears, I am looking in your direction. However, I’m equally certain that those of us who are avid readers are well aware that a literary variant of this adage also exists, namely that our projected reading is always larger than the amount we actually manage to get through.
You would think, wouldn’t you, considering how much we have read during our lifetimes, that by now we would have a realistic expectation of the number of books we are likely to get through in any given period. Not a bit of it!
Now I’m not talking here about the wilful neglect of books that we feel we ought to read but somehow never get round to. I had a colleague who each summer took all the newly published books in her field on holiday with her with the stated intention of catching up on the latest research. To the best of my knowledge she never read a single one and I don’t think deep down she ever thought she would. However subliminal, that is deliberate self-deception. No, this is something different. I’m certain that we draw up these reading lists, whatever the number of hours or days we think we have before us, with the honest belief that there really will be ‘world enough and time’ to get through them. And we never learn that we are, quite simply, wrong. For years, whenever I went on holiday, I would pack enough books to stock a small library. One for every day I was away and a couple over just in case I’d chosen something I ended up disliking was my general rule of thumb. I just had to hope that I was going to be able to buy clean underwear when I arrived at my destination. I probably got through about half. Latterly, the arrival of the e-reader has at least meant that I have had room for clothes as well, but nevertheless the number of books downloaded is still equal to those previously packed. Hope springs eternal in the reader’s breast.
And holidays at home are no different as I have just rediscovered. I was determined that I was going to read my way through all of the Wimsey books over this past ten days as well as catching up with a number of reviewing commitments. Have I done so? No, of course I haven’t! Four Wimseys and two review copies has been my tally. And if I’d been honest with myself I would have known in advance that that would be the case. Why? Because it always has been, and it always will be. I suspect it is an unalterable law of the universe. It’s just that with a stretch of a week or so when there really is going to be time to simply curl up and indulge myself, my imagination runs away with me and I start to fantasise about how many of those ‘must reads’ I am going to be able to consume. I should have learnt by now that however much I wish it were the case, fantasy is not real life.
In truth, I do still have another week before my regular commitments start up again, but of course, I have preparation to do for them and so what I want to read is going to have to be put to one side in favour of what I have to read. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. At least my work prep is still reading and fiction reading at that. Things could be a lot worse. But, that pile of books that I so confidently predicted I was going to demolish has been diminished by less than half and yet again I have failed to meet my great expectations.