Playing favourites – the trouble with settling on favourite books

I love alarm-free mornings. I drift into awareness that I’m ready to be awake and I don’t have anywhere that I need to be in the next few hours. They are golden.

Today was a case in point.

I listened to the rain. I skipped about the internet on my tablet. I wandered out to the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal.

No rushing. No fretting. A pleasant change of pace.

This week I’ve been thinking about reading

This week I found myself at the Millpoint Caffe Bookshop. I used to go there a lot and it was lovely to walk back through those doors.

It got me thinking about reading – especially about how my reading habits have had to change over the years.

Black and white bird searching for crumbs
A bookshop companion

I’ll be honest. It can be hard to get to my reading pile. I’ll be honest, again; there’s more than one.

There are pillars of books that threaten to topple. There are books that have been shelved without being read. They wait. I think of them as hidden sentinels. They lurk.

I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

Well not as far as the multiple reading piles go. I suspect others might be reluctant to admit to allowing a degree of anthropomorphism to their libraries.

Then again, books are companions. They function as tokens – in the sense of standing in for something bigger or less permanent. I run my fingers along the spines of books on my shelves and I remember where I was when I bought them or read them.

I remember who was with me. I remember conversations. I remember if I laughed or cried.

One weekend, at the start of my first teaching job, I sat down to read all the books that had been assigned my classes. I was stepping into someone else’s reading plan and the assigned texts were all new to me. All five books left me in tears. Two of them escape me just now but I distinctly remember finishing first Bridge to Terabithia then The Chrysalids and, straight after that, I Heard the Owl Call my Name. I wept my way through all of them.

I haven’t read them for years but I know I’ll go back to them. Even taking them off the shelves today brought back memories. There was the frangipani by my window, the brilliant stars when I went outside at midnight to force a break in the reading and its impact.

Picking favourites

A friend asked me for my ‘top 10 books’ during the week. – It was one of those ‘you’ve been tagged in a post’ things…

As I hit post to share the list I felt that regret that I knew I would have as soon as I started to pick and choose.

The list I put up was:

  1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman
  2. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
  4. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  5. L’Etranger – Albert Camus
  6. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  7. The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers – Delia Falconer
  8. The Patron Saint of Eels – Gregory Day
  9. Shipwrecks – Akira Yoshimura
  10. Pearl – Jane Draycott

As soon as I read back over the list I realised that I’d missed including The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Instant remorse. I know I had specifically meant to include it because it was the reason Jane Eyre made it onto the list. (The only reason Jane Eyre was in question was because I’d set myself a rule about not including books I’ve taught. L’Etranger made it because I cheated with that rule a smidge…I haven’t taught it in French…)

Then – and I back to the anthropomorphic potential of books – I spun the chair in my study and looked straight into the spine of Fly Away Peter by David Malouf. If books could glower…

Even with the (broken) rule about not including books I’ve taught I knew it was a book I probably wanted to have on the list.

It would be cheating to have a top 10 in point five increments, I suppose.

What I’m reading now

For the past few months my posts have focused on writing (and not writing) and buying books. It occurs to me that I haven’t dwelt on reading.

At least, not in any great detail.

Perhaps I should review my posts to check this is correct but I know I don’t really need to.

I never seem to have the time I’d like for reading. By that I mean the sort of reading where I kick back and read a novel just for the pleasure of the ride.

I’ve been re-reading Silk by Alessandro Baricco. It is such a slim volume I could have ripped through it in a flash. Instead I’ve been making myself take my time. Just a chapter at a time, spaced out over days. The measuring out of the reading has been a great way to engage with Baricco’s story.

When I picked up Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer a few weeks ago I planned to save it for the Christmas break. I’ve been dipping into it but I think it does need more space than I’ve been able to give it so far. I suspect I need to be more focused and reflective than I’ve been able to be just lately.

When I found myself in a bookstore last weekend I decided it was time to buy a book that I wanted to just read. With that in mind, I made myself settle on just one book as THE ONE that I would commit to for the week. I chose Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (as translated by Alison Anderson).

It won’t just be the book I remember, but the people I met up with and  the bird that pecked at crumbs by our table. I’ll also remember that we were sitting a table where I’ve sat with those and other people over the years. People who are no longer with us and people who I’ll meet up with at other times.

It’s made for a rare and wonderful day. I had been dipping into the novel on and off for a couple of days. Today I’ve been able to concentrate on reading for decent chunks of time. I took it with me when I went to run the usual Saturday errands.

Cafe table with novel and refreshments
A lovely spot for reading

I don’t tend to read before bed. I find that, rather than helping me unwind, late night reading leaves me wanting to read until the end of the story – and perhaps the end of another.

It’s not a school night, though, is it? It’s  late but I only have a hundred or so pages to go…

I think I’ll make sure tomorrow is another day that begins with the alarm clock staying silent.

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