And by this I don’t mean a book that has no literary merit, I mean a book that’s not connecting with me when I’m reading it. I used to think that I had to finish every book I read, especially if it had been recommended to me. Even more so if it had been recommended to me as a ‘really good book’. I would plough my way through page after page, chapter after chapter, even if every word were as excrutiating to read as a hand-written sonnet by a 15 year old boy. All this, just so I could say ‘I’ve read that book’.
Now? Now I have a pile of books next to my bed, all of which I want to get through and which I don’t have enough time to get through. I sometimes feel like they’re needy children camped out next to me while I sleep, each one whispering, ‘choose me’. Now, when I start reading a book, if I don’t have a good response to it, if I’m starting to fall asleep too soon, if I can’t remember any of the characters the next morning, if the characters don’t seem believable, if any amount of different things, I simply close the book, take out my bookmark and put it down. (Though there is still a part of me that twinges with a hint of guilt when I do it).
I will admit that I have done this to the great JM Coetzee. In fact, I’ll come clean and say it: “I don’t like some of JM Coetzee’s books”. I was going to say “I don’t like JM Coetzee”, but that would be unfair as I have admired some of his books greatly. He is a very, very good writer, so succinct he sometimes makes my mouth pucker like a dry champagne. But I really don’t like many of his books simply for the reason that they make me feel depressed. I don’t want to feel depressed; I feel depressed too often in my life to wish to add to it.
I started the new Barbara Trapido the other day, “Sex and Stravinksy”. I was so excited to see a new one from her, it seems like years since she’s brought out a new book. I loved some of her books – who can forget “Brother of a Lesser Jack”? I read the first chapter of her new one and tried really hard not to fall asleep in the second chapter. It seems I didn’t succeed, as I woke up in the morning with the book next to me in the bed. I had to start again that evening, as I couldn’t remember any of the characters. Again I fell asleep on the second chapter. When I picked it up the following evening and still couldn’t remember the characters, I closed it and put it down. With regret, I have to say. I had been looking forward to reading that book.
There are many more that I have put down, inflicting a premature death onto them, perhaps unfairly. But I would prefer to enjoy a book in the time that I have to read, rather than wade through it painfully. At least now, in my mid-forties, I feel secure enough to be able to put a book down, irrespective of who the author is, and say, “I’m not enjoying this.” Even if I only whisper it quietly to myself.