2018 sees the 50th anniversary of the Booker Prize and among the many things that will no doubt occur to celebrate this, the sponsors are challenging us to see how many of the previous winners we can read by the end of May. On a quick check I think I've read maybe half a dozen. I say "maybe" because there are a couple I might or might not have read. Not every book stays totally with you. That's part of their joy, you can go back and do it all again.
Towards the end of 2017 I lost two of my main outlets for talking about books. One of them paid a nominal amount for reviews, the other didn't but did source free books. So at the turning of the year I was thinking "well, that's the reviewing done…time to move on to other things". This chimed well with a notion picked up from Rebecca Campbell that what is rising in us can only rise, if what is falling is allowed to fall away. I was prepared to believe that this is the universe telling me: you've done your apprenticeship, start work.
So I started the year thinking that on the upside I could now 'just read the books'. I wouldn't have to think about them, I wouldn't have to talk about them.
And I could write about other things instead.
Just who did I think I was kidding? I've never 'just read' a book. When I was being read Brer Rabbit as a toddler I was asking 'why?' and 'whats'it mean?'.
Ok, I did spend four years of O- and A-level English decrying the need to pull literature apart rather than just enjoying it for what it is…in retrospect I know that I love Macbeth and Waiting for Godot and Tess all the more for having been made to focus intently on them, and I know that I read books differently now as a result. So to Mr Potter I say (yes, again!) "Thank you…and I'm sorry."
I don't quite pull books apart the way we were taught in LitCrit classes. Nor do I dissect them to see 'why they work' as creative writing tutors would have me do. I still love to lose myself in the other world, suspend disbelief, go with the flow (or the fear) – but I also give my subconscious permission to note the language, mark the pages, make a note to bring me back to look at it again. I choose to believe that most fiction authors write not to teach us, but to transport us, so I think my first duty as a reader is to allow myself to be transported. In some non-fiction too… and often non-fiction leads to the fiction and vice-versa. That we should learn something along the way is, I choose to believe, the happy happenstance, not the purpose.
If Dickens' only aim was to highlight social injustice he had other ways of doing that. He didn't want to teach us about it, he wanted us to experience it for ourselves. Only then would we not only know about it, we would care about it. Maybe do something about it? That's why Cathy Come Home did more than any amount of protesting and politicking. Not enough, but a start. A start we need to make over, as it happens. Films and books speak to our emotions not just our brains…and we are an emotional species…which is why books (and films) matter. It is why we should engage with fiction and drama, as well as fact and dogma.
Of course, turning full circle on myself, that only works if we not only read the books and allow ourselves to be immersed in them, but if we also stop to think about them, talk about them. Act on them. So payment or not, free books or not, I'm not sure I can stop myself from reviewing what I've read. I just need to figure out how and when and where.
I also need to decide what I'm going to read. And why.
The thought of having to now actually 'buy' books comes hard ~ sorry authors, I KNOW! – but hey, it was relatively free P.R. and I have panned so very few, the vast majority were majorly celebrated.
I'm looking to my own income diminishing at the same time, so there are likely to be fewer newly published offerings.
I still haven't completed my commitment to (re)read Terry Pratchett's complete works – at a penny a page to the Alzheimer's society in his memory. Sorry guys – I stalled on that one because I cannot find my copy of The Night Watch. I know I had it, in hardback, but it seems to have been beamed up or slunk away into a parallel dimension. Nothing for it, I'll have to buy another copy. Because this is an outstanding commitment, that's taken longer than I thought it would, I am going to make an exception and continue to buy the Pratchett's I don't already have.
The main thing I am conscious of, however, is how many books I already own that I have not yet read. Inherited books, present books, even bought books. I give books away, I sell books, I only keep the books I know I want to read again and I have shelves and floors groaning with these, but there are other shelves and othe piles in other rooms of still-to-be-read tomes. So maybe this is the year I stop acquiring new books and start reading, maybe re-reading (I have been known to forget I've read something) old ones.
Maybe the place to share it is right here. Not book by book, perhaps, but month by month. Perhaps I'll find some gems in the unread pile…perhaps I'll find some dross that I can discard…perhaps I'll read less this year, perhaps I'll read more. The only things I know for sure is that there will always be at least one book with a place-marker in it next to my reading chair…and that I will likely both laugh and weep and undoubtedly learn something along the way.
Whether any of it will be of interest to anyone else…who knows?
I recently stumbled across this quote from Georgia O'Keefe: whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing. I'm sure she was talking about being an artist, making artworks, being "creative" – but I think it's also a layered thought. We are all creative, whether we're creating a work of art or a family or a business, a meal or music or a garden.
We all have unknown aspects of ourselves that might help both us and the world if we were more honest in sharing them.
At the same time we need to make the unknown parts of ourselves known to ourselves so that we can become who we were born to be.
Finally, we need to make known to ourselves at least some of the vastness of the world that is part of our unknown, our personal ignorance if you will.
And I figure I have shelves-full of books begging me to let them help.
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