On Reading

As is so often the case, fans of Berkshire will be disappointed by the contents of this post.  As a small sop to them, I can exclusively reveal that I bought my first ever pair of jeans in Reading!  Not funny, but certainly true.

No, this post – as so many before it – will reflect on my most persistent hobby: reading.  I have been a reader for longer than I can remember.  I am told that as a tiny tot I would insist that any text within eyeshot was read out to me, and in an abortive attempt to shut me up my mother taught me to read at a young age (possibly the most unsuccessful plan in human history).  In many ways, little has changed and I find it very hard to resist reading any text which passes into my visual field – whatever the language.  Slightly dangerously, this extends to reading any text displayed on other people’s clothing or, indeed, tattooed onto their flesh.  This can lead to me staring rather too intently (and sometimes obviously) at the bodies of others – an issue which has recently taken a worrying turn.  Over the weekend, I found myself staring intently at the body art of a burly chap in the changing room at the gym trying to decide which Mesoamerican culture’s art had been pastiched to decorate his upper back and shoulder.  I tend to think it was Aztec (or maybe Olmec), but am grateful he did not catch me pondering this weighty matter as I fear he may have found my explanation inadequate.

I am rarely without a book, as you never know when you will have a lacuna – a queue perhaps or an ad break – which could usefully be filled by knocking off a few pages.  In fact, I usually have at least two books “on the go” at any time – one for home (often a larger, less portable choice) and one for away (always a more modestly sized paperback).  I also like to strike a balance between fiction and non-fiction and a range of genres – but sometimes a book just cries out to be read now and to Hades with the system!

All very well I hear you say, but why is he boring us with this information now?  Well, because I can (obviously) – but there are a couple of other reasons why reading was foremost in my mind.  Firstly, as recently reported I recovered my copy of The Silmarillion from storage.  This was to lend it to a chap how works on the bar at the Nuffield (though he is mostly a student, something in the biological sciences I think) who I got chatting to at a previous drinks do (my life is not just hob-nobbing with celebrities, you know).  How the conversation ended up with Tolkien’s LotR backstory I no longer recall, but I promised to lend the lad my copy.  Before handing it over, I did re-read a little of it – and it is very much my kind of thing, but I was left wondering how it would go down with a normal human being.  It would seem I needn’t have worried, before the evening was out he had read a little of the opening (when Eru made the Ainur and they began to sing Arda into existence) and seems to have been hooked.  I think my childhood love of creation myths, and mythology more generally, may be partly to blame from my relative immunity to the siren charms of organised religion (my mother may also need to shoulder some of the blame).  In many ways, Ilúvatar seems a much better bet than most of the gods actual religions have saddled us with – though even he has some explaining to do around the whole Melkor issue.  Re-reading some of the book as an adult, I was also forcibly struck by how few female characters it contains – other than a few Valar, there only seems to be Melian and Galadriel – though perhaps JRR was just following the model laid down by “real” religions?  Despite this, I must admit my re-reading suggests I haven’t changed that much over the nearly 30 years since I first read the book – a perhaps worrying degree of continuity.

My second reason was that I have just read The Quarry by Iain Banks.  I started with Mr Banks’ work in around 1991 with Espedair Street and swiftly went through all his M-free oeuvre.  I then knocked off his science fiction (with the M) and thereafter have had to read his books as they are written.  His work has, therefore, been my companion through most of my adult life (and nearly half my entire life) – but with his premature death in 2013, I always knew this would come to an end.  I read the Hydrogen Sonata a little while back, which will be the last I read of the Culture (a tragedy in itself – if there is one fictional place I’d like to live, it is in the Culture), but had been putting off reading his final work.  I really enjoyed The Quarry – and feel that Kit and I have quite a lot in common – but it was also sad to know that there were only 100 pages of new IB, then 50, then 25 and then it was all gone.  It was in many ways a good choice for a last work, started before he knew that it would be so – and so all the more poignant.

There have been many books from a whole range of authors that I have looked forward to over the years, but none held quite the place in my heart of a new Iain (M) Banks.  Still, there are a good half-dozen books in the bedroom awaiting my attentions and many more in bookshops and libraries (for the moment, anyway) across the land, so I shall learn to cope with the loss.  (And, of course, I can always return and re-read his work – so in a way, he is still with me).

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