Friday, 25 July 2008

Nothing to read

"It's funny, you'd think that when you're unhappy you'd want to listen to something uplifting, to make you feel better, but in my experience it's the dark shit you want to listen to. I hate that album now, but I couldn't get enough of it then" John Bennett, Sea Otters gambolling in the wild, wild surf
I know that feeling. Some people choose music to change their mood. I never seem to be able to get it right. I listen to music to match my mood. Of course, what matches a particular mood is terribly subjective. The music echoes and amplifies the emotions. It's cathartic. It's comforting. Poetry, too.

And books. Most teenagers - at least if Hollywood is to be believed - spend an awful lot of time in front of cupboards packed full of clothes, complaining that they have nothing to wear. I have days when I have 'nothing to read'. This is despite a large and varied book collection. Some days you just can't find the book you want to read. Some days it's because I can't find the book I want. This evening, for example, I am very bleak because I cannot find my copy of the Drifters. It is very annoyed. I don't want to read something else (and generally scorn helpful suggestions of alternative books). I want to read what I want to read. Sometimes I don't know what it is but I know that it isn't one of the books in front of me. I'll know it when I find it. It makes me unhappy. I tend to sulk.

Several of my friends think I'm strange because I reread books. I don't think it's odd. But I may experience books a little differently. I don't have a favourite sweater/jersey that I've owned for years and that is comfy and comforting and I couldn't part with. I have books like that, though. I never go away without a book. In fact, I generally have at least two books with me. Which doesn't stop me buying books at airports (the amount of money I've spent at ORT Exclusive Books...), of course. I have books for every mood. There are books that echo nostalgia and a sense of home and loss. In fact, just writing that makes me want to reread one of those books (Marita vd Vyver, Where the Heart Is). There are books that make me think and that echo my (slighly unorthodox) intellectual leanings - e.g. Most of Le Guin. There are books that make me laugh and books that make me cry and books that are like coming home.

I collect books. This doesn't mean anything fancy like collecting first editions and it does not simply mean that I gather lots of different authors and titles. I don't really own books that I haven't read. I know lots of people who have piles of books that they are waiting to get around to. I don't. I have several books next to my bed but that's because I'm in the process of reading three and I haven't found a bookcase (they're all full) for the rest yet.

I am very bad at taking book recommendations. I know what I like but I also know how very specific - and often eclectic and a little obscure - my tastes are, so I am generally sceptical of books other people recommend to me. This isn't because I disdain their book choices, I just don't trust most authors not to irritate or not entrance me. I'm not good at reading authors who don't entrance me. As a result, there are many 'must-read' books I haven't read. I might get around to them one day, if I'm in the mood. Sometimes I find odd books and decide to buy them. Looking through the sale books the other day, I came across a book called 'Sea Otters gambolling in the wild, wild surf'. I bought it on a whim, just because. I don't know if it's a good book - I'm far too selfish in my tastes to bother with definitions of good literature. The pull-quote on the cover - taken from some review - calls the book unusual. It is. I was absorbed. It will have a place on my bookshelf. This is not a recommendation, though. I don't generally recommend books (except for everything Ursula le Guin has ever written and The Tipping Point) - my tastes are just too odd. But even if I did, this isn't the kind of book I'd recommend. It's a 'secretive' book. That's not the right word, but I don't know what is. It matches my mood. I'm in my own head at the moment. It's like that.

Some people read books to improve their minds. I don't think I do that. I suppose there is an argument that suggests I should. But I don't want to. I read books because I want to read them. I read books for me. I don't read improving books or books that are relevant and important to my career. I've particularly bad at reading biographies and inspirational books just do not hold my attention at all. I'm entranced by character and narrative and style but really I read books because I like them and for no other real reason. I read in the way that some people listen to music - to echo their moods, as a way to experience the world, just because. I read books that reflect. There is a character in Aaron Sorkin's West Wing who says "I write poetry, Toby. That's how I enter the world". Books are how I enter the world. Every time I reread a book - especially those favourite-sweater type of books - I discover and re-discover bits that light up my soul and make me more of who I am.

1 comment:

  1. Somehow I didn't believe there were people in the world like me; though I am very happy to discover that you are on of them!

    Oh, there are small differences. For instance,I have quite a few books I haven't read—but mostly because I am embarrassed about giving them back to the enthusiastic recommender/lender, only to have to tell them I didn't get past page three (if that).

    What resonated with me most is your hostility (is that the right word?) towards recommendations. My sister gets my back up the most—she is an incorrigible book-recommender, and without fail they are things I am convinced are just not for me.

    Oh, and you love Ursula Le Guin—who I believed was a "secret author" of mine for years.

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