I’ve been reading novels, light reads, because classes finished, and I wanted to unwind with something that only required me to jump on board and follow the action. If, after a few pages, I’m not engaged with the story, I close the book. It’s taken a lot of training for me to be able to do that.
Generally I’ll take in any words on view, from cereal packets to old magazines and notices in waiting rooms. I do the same with fiction, going from trashy novels to heavy classics to comics as they come to hand.
This eclectic approach means I’m fairly widely read, so I don’t regret it. However, I’m glad that I got to the point, with Moby Dick, where I couldn’t face another graphic description of the killing and dismantling of a whale. I needed a classic novel to make me understand I did not have to, and would not be able to, read everything.
I used to think that there was a list of fiction that well-read people knew, and I imagined it as covering, perhaps, two sides of A4 paper. What I’ve come to understand is that there are lists of all kinds in circulation, mostly much longer than that, and they’re constantly taking account of new writers, and re-discovered writers, from the ancient to the nearly modern.
In case you haven’t noticed, let me tell you that there’s an awful lot of fiction available now. With all the different ways there are to become published, it feels like we’ve come round to the heydays of the pamphlet all over again. That means good opportunities for readers and writers.
My reactions to fiction are not fixed. Some old favourites no longer work in the same way when I go back to them. I enjoy them, and admire the writing, but my experiences of life, and other literature have all impacted on my responses. So, that favourite-reads list is not just expanding, it’s also in a state of continuous flux.
When I decide not to continue reading something I’m not saying the writing is no good, I’m recognising that at that particular moment, it does not work for me. On another day, this might be different. What I had to remind myself was that reading should be about entertainment.