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9. Why Read?

First, a confession: I do read too fast.  I race through science fiction, I gulp down American contemporary fiction, devour bodice rippers and make an “igloo igloo” noise while consuming biographies.  The only thing I am capable of sipping is poetry, as it is something to be handled with caution: a little can sustain you for months when handled properly, whereas a botched job can ensure a soured outlook for yourself and others.

The pleasure is prolonged by the fact that you can, indigestion and penury aside, revisit and refine these moments of enjoyment throughout your life – your only concerns need be running out of shelf space (I have), allowing your muscles to atrophy (combat all the sitting down by resisting the Kindle and carrying six books everywhere) and attempting to have a relationship with a non-reader (just don’t do it). There are books from your childhood for comfort, enormous blocks of fantasy fiction for attaining the Bovary effect, the latest bolt from a newcomer that can ensure you avoid the people you went on holiday with in the first place, and the daily feat of eluding your surroundings on your commute with a piece of writing so accomplished that you miss your stop. Passages of Absalom, Absalom! stranded me in Bognor Regis.

By this stage, it may seem as if this approach is a slightly antisocial one: embracing the written word as a way of avoiding mankind. This is not the case: reading is a compulsion that defines friendships and eases every social encounter. If more people made a point of asking a new acquaintance what they are reading rather than what they do for a living, it would have the dual effect of weeding out the non-readers immediately – this is not to say you won’t be friends, but at least you immediately know them for what they truly are – and eliminating awkwardness as you attempt to politely explain what you do in an attempt to disguise the fact that you work to read.

So please continue to indulge – start early, do it everywhere and there is no such thing as too much.

Flora Joll

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