I haven’t been blogging long enough to be sure but it seems to me that the main risk in taking time to write about books is that you spend less time reading them.
When I, for whatever reason, find my reading tempo slowing down, I’m usually particularly susceptible to lists. Lists of best books, favourite books, forgotten books, new books, old books… Surely if someone took the time to put a certain book on a list, it’s worth a read. Admittedly, I also do find a perhaps indecent amount of pleasure in ticking items off a list, I have done since I could first hold a pencil.
Here’s a list I spent some time browsing through over the weekend: 50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers. I would certainly not call myself an extreme reader, and the figures seem to support me in that. I’ve read 8 of the 50 titles, of which 2 were for university courses and most likely would not have ended up in my hands otherwise. The list itself fascinated me though for the number of titles I’ve never even heard of, which actually doesn’t happen all that often – I may not have read that many ‘listworthy’ books but I’ve usually read about them! Having conducted a small amount of research into those new-to-me titles, I’d have to say that, in all honesty, I’m not likely to read many of them in the future.
Once upon a time, I could have put my hand on my heart and said, in truth, “Oh, I’ll read anything!” I still think of myself as a relatively open reader but, as time has gone by, I’ve had to become so much more selective in my reading. Work, adult life, personal responsibilities have all made me a little pickier when it comes to my leisure reading. It’s oft-repeated, I know, but life’s too short to read rubbish. And then there are narratives that, quality though they may be, have become unpalatable to me for personal reasons. Since my dog started to curl up beside me as I read, I’ve found that I can’t make it through scenes of animal cruelty without becoming upset. I can just about manage books that might feature narratively-justified animal death, because, well, that’s inevitable, but anything that results in an animal suffering unnecessarily just leaves me upset for days. I know there are some great reads that I’ll never get to now because of this restriction and there are books that I’ve started and may never finish because I stumbled over a description I wish I’d never read, but that’s me knowing my reading limits and, usually, choosing to read within them. Of course, the question is under what circumstances would I willingly read something I found objectionable? For educational purposes? If it were written by someone I knew personally? If it were the last book in the world?
If you were cast-away a la Tom Hanks and that Wilson volleyball fella was demanding to be read aloud to, would you read ‘anything’? What makes a book an ‘incredibly tough’ read for you? Is there anything you’ve read that you wish you hadn’t? Do you qualify as an ‘extreme reader’?