I had a lot of fun with the books but I found that, in the end, there wasn’t any challenge. I never once found myself thinking “I better read another book or write another review or I’ll fall behind and fail.” Instead I relished the luxury of allowing myself to read so many books and I found that capturing how I felt about the books in a review afterwards extended my contact with the book and deepened my pleasure.
Nevertheless, it was fun to keep track of what I read and to share my thoughts with anyone who wants them, so I’m grateful to the challenge for that.
We’re four days into 2015, I’ve already finished my first book, the excellent “The Foxglove Summer” by Ben Aaronovitch, and I was looking around for another challenge. I saw blogs debating quality against quantity, new against the familiar, classic against contemporary, even one which suggested that I target my reading depending the ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or age of the writer. None of them called to me but they did make me think about what I want to get out of reading in 2015.
The answer was simple. I want to set my imagination alight, to escape into other people’s thoughts and worlds, to see my own world afresh through the eyes of others, to meet characters I care about or hate, to be excited, afraid, amused, perhaps even a little in love. I want to read to be more myself and to become someone so different I couldn’t imagine them without the author’s help.
There is no challenge in any of that, only opportunity.
One winter, when I was nine, way back in 1966, my parents thought that I had run away from home. I’d left the house on Saturday morning without saying where I was going and I hadn’t returned by dark. They set out on fruitless search for me. By the time I arrived home they were agitated and angry and demanded to know exactly where I’d been. If I had been a more grown-up nine-year-old, I might have considered my response more carefully, instead I answered, “I’ve been to Narnia with Aslan for the final battle.” My parents were not assuaged. They thought I was being flippant when, in fact, I was being literal. That morning I had gone to the Public Library to see if “The Last Battle” had come in. I picked it up and read the first few pages standing near to the librarian’s counter. She had suggested that I’d be more comfortable in the Reading Room. I was. So comfortable that I forgot where and when I was and read the book cover to cover without stirring from my chair. At least that’s how I remember it. I suppose I must have taken care of basic bodily functions like drinking and going to the toilet, although food and drink were not permitted in the Reading Room and I don’t remember leaving it.
The point is, reading “The Last Battle” wasn’t a challenge, it was an imperative. It was the only place I wanted to be and it absorbed me totally.
What I want from my reading in 2015 is to find as many occasions as possible where I can read with the intense concentration and deeply felt pleasure that my nine-year-old self achieved.
Of course, I am not a child any more. I read differently now. How I read each new book is affected by the thousands of books that I read before it and by the real-life experiences that have made me the man I am.
I have responsibilities that mean I can seldom spend a whole day reading a book. I have people in my life that I want to spend time with. I have places that I want to see.
I’m not looking to escape from my day-to-day life but to enrich it.
So in 2015, I’m going to follow my nose when it comes to reading. I have series that I want to continue with. I have old science fiction favourites that I want to revisit, and I’m on the look out for voices that are fresh to me and will take me places I’ve seldom been before.
The only “challenge” I’ll set myself, is to review as many of them as I can so that make myself pause and savour what they meant to me.