Saturday, 3 January 2009


I went to Bury St Edmunds yesterday (and have not a single photo to show for it). I did new things - I sat in a restaurant on my own and ordered myself a meal and a glass of wine (and either I had a very good waiter or I'm only invisible when I'm with other people). Later, in an overcrowded coffee shop, I asked a complete stranger if they would mind my sharing their table (not in the least).

I did old things too. I bought books. My first words as I got through the door were "you know that not-buying-books thing? I'd be really really grateful if you didn't mention it until tomorrow". It was only 12 books, mostly secondhand. Besides, at my current rate, that's probably only about one months' reading.

Because something has changed, and it took me until yesterday to realise it. When I began blogging, I was a knitter who read. I had been a passionate reader, but that seemed to be in the past. I thought it was growing up. I was wrong.

I'm a reader who knits (and cooks, and very occasionally goes into the garden, has a fit of despair, and goes back inside to find a book). I finished 140 books last year (from 'King Hereafter' by Dorothy Dunnett to 'Curly Girl' by Lorraine Massey - oh how I tried to avoid making that one the last of the year, but to no avail. Besides, as a true reader I believe you can do anything in life if you find the right instruction book, and it had occurred to me that everything I know about haircare I learned from my mother, who does not have unmanageably curly hair like mine - rather the reverse). Two of the books I read last year have gone straight onto my list of all-time favourites ('Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson and 'Girl Meets Boy' by Ali Smith, which is so infectiously joyful that it should be available on prescription).

I didn't expect to read so many books. I thought I would be lucky if I got to 100. Some were very short (Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of graphic novels, for example) but some were extremely lengthy (various titles by Mary Gentle, which I put down as one book because they were one volume with a single title, but that were actually compilations of several earlier novels which could equally have been listed separately).

I am a very fast reader. To my own detriment sometimes - whilst plot details are absorbed instantly, the emotional weight of a book may take several re-readings. I also never ever get puns in print, because I don't hear the sound of what I'm reading at all. I absorb a sentence, even a whole paragraph, at once. I think this is what speed-reading courses teach, but I have always done it, untaught, and don't entirely know how to read differently. (Anyone who 'gets' puns in print may be a fast reader, but I doubt they're a speed-reader.)

It isn't a good way to read poetry - so I normally read that aloud. Unfortunately, I am quite capable of reading aloud and to myself simultaneously, so that my brain is several lines ahead of my voice. It takes an effort to disengage, to slow down.

So I start 2009 with two books underway - 'Master and Commander' by Patrick O'Brian (2009 being the year I will read the entire series at last, instead of having to keep skipping books because Bradford Libraries didn't have the next one), read in alternating chapters with 'The Greeks and Greek Love' by James Davidson (non-fiction tends to be slower - all that flipping backwards and forwards to the endnotes - even non-fiction with sentences like this: "The point is that a Greek of the classical period can talk of an eros in which there is not only no sex and no attempt at sex, but no physical interest, a passionate yet chaste admiration for a young man's beautiful personality, and errr...impressive muscular development...").

1 comment:

Silas said...

Reading the series is a good idea, I think. I'm certainly glad I got to read the series in order, and didn't realise you hadn't!