What is the one thing I love doing almost more than anything else? Reading? What is the one thing I rarely allow myself to do? When I was a teenager my big treat after exams and at the start of hols was to withdraw a Georgette Heyer from the library, buy a bag of wine gums and gorge on historical fiction. Then, as now, my taste was entirely eclectic. I read Jane Austen and George Eliot with as much voracity as Heyer and Plaidy. Today in my bag there’s a copy of Lacuna (see previous blog), and a book called The Terror, about the French Revolution. I am not, it will be clear, an intellectual reader, but I am voracious.
And yet, reading, like so many pleasures, always seems to get deferred. Perhaps this is the product of a very driven schooling, and being the daughter of a Methodist convert to Catholicism. Mostly it’s just plain ridiculous that the one thing I love to do should be snatched at in between far less important things like.... gardening and ironing, for example. It’s because I like it that I feel so guilty doing it. If it were a chore, I’d be reading for hours longer. How bizarre is that?
But one of my top favourite things in life is for a friend to appear on my doorstep, book in hand, and tell me that I must read it, she’s loved it. This kind of generosity is on a par with shared recipes, or plant cuttings. The book is for ever associated with the person who recommended it so there is an additional depth to the reading. The Mill on the Floss, for instance, will always be associated with an English teacher, Austen, with my mother. In my childhood home we had a coal boiler, just the right height for sitting on (probably not ideal for one’s health), and on this I would perch, being a cold child. Mum and I would read a page at a time. What an amazing legacy she gave me. Reading is a solitary experience, on the whole, but even more delicious when mulled over and shared.
And of course, if I’m reading a book because someone says I must, why then, no guilt.