Thursday, 19 February 2009

Reading and Me!

I have a fluctuating relationship with reading. Sometimes I read voraciously and at others I don’t read for weeks at a time. One of the main reasons I don’t read, is that if I find a book I really like, I can’t put it down. Nothing gets done, no cooking, no housework, no sewing, absolutely nothing. Then the guilt sets in and I don’t read again for ages. I wish I was one of those people who can read for half an hour or an hour in bed before they go to sleep. I’ve tried it but it ends up with me up all night reading, I have to go downstairs to avoid disturbing my husband.

My main time for reading is on holiday. I’m loaded up with books to read lying on a lounger beside the pool under the sunshade. Not for me trekking about the Roman and Greek ruins in the heat. I don’t mind a little wander now and again to see some sights, but don’t expect me to go on a long day trip anywhere. Just leave me reading.

Now I’m not a good reader, I’ll admit to that. I’m a bit of a speed freak. I used to be a good reader but I got into bad habits when I was studying for a degree with all that scanning and skimming. I start off fine but then I seem to speed up and want to find out what happens. I often have to go back to read a section again because I’ve lost the plot, literally. So what makes a “good” book for me? I’ve been trying to suss that out and I’m not really sure. I don’t have a particular genre I like. I can enjoy a detective story, a historical novel, comedy, satire and so on. I don’t really enjoy sci-fi and wild west stuff though.

I know when I really like a book because I keep trying to remember phrases the author has used. It’s a bit like moments you remember from films, like James Stewart in Harvey who said, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I have a few quotes that I can remember from books and believe me I have a terrible memory so it’s no mean feat for me. Here are a couple of my favourites:

Bill Bryson’s introductory sentence in The Lost Continent is totally unforgettable and always cracks me up. “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to!”
What a fantastic opening line. How could you put that book down? Well maybe if you came from Des Moines you might.

Another phrase is from The Great Gatsby, there were quite a few I loved, but this one always sticks in my mind, “he dispensed starlight to casual moths”. So simple, but so memorable. It’s all credit to Scott Fitzgerald that I can recall that after over twenty five years.

Over the years there have only been a few books that I couldn’t get away with and finish reading. After all I did manage to get to the end of Umberto Ecco’s The Name of The Rose, a bit of a marathon I can tell you. I doubt I would have done that if I hadn’t seen the film which I thought was wonderful and that kept me going. One of the few times the film isn’t a poor reflection of the book.
However for the first time I can remember in years, I’ve given up on a book. Maybe it’s because I’m conscious of not having a tremendous amount of time left to waste, after all I’m 64. This book was such a disappointment to me as it’s by Alexander McCall Smith who wrote the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I loved the TV programme and I had tried to get the book from the library but currently 90% of the library’s books are packed away while it’s being refurbished as a "Library and Customer Service Centre", get that! I should have ordered it from another library but I was in a bit of a hurry and just took what books they had by him.

The book was The 2 ½ Pillars of Wisdom – The Von Igelfeld Trilogy. Now this book contains three stories about three German professors, I struggled reading the first, Portuguese Irregular Verbs. I read five of the eight chapters of it and I just felt the stories were stupid, not funny and I was thoroughly bored by them. Life’s just too short to be so bored by a book so I moved on to the second one by the same author. I don’t give up easily!


This one is the World According to Bertie. Again it’s part of a series, it’s A 44 Scotland Street Novel. Funny how this chappie’s book titles contain a number. I decided to read a few pages to avoid sitting down for a lengthy session being full of great expectations and then being disappointed!

It’s a portrait of life in Edinburgh covering a range of moral issues, love, friendship, child rearing, duplicity and more. There are a number of different stories being played out with characters including Bertie a confused six year old boy, Bruce a conceited and greedy young man, Cyril a dog about to be wrongfully executed and Matthew and Pat a couple who are not exactly suited to each other.

It certainly was much better than the other book but it won’t make my list of favourites. I’m a person who likes things resolved, even if it’s not a particularly happy resolution, but this book left some of the stories unresolved. Now as it’s part of a series, maybe the stories continue. I’ll keep a look out.