Feeding My Habit.

My approach to book-buying has, of late, come into line with my attitude to purchasing stuff in general. That is, I have learned to resist the hype and take the marketing with a generous pinch of salt.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve needed to have a book on the go and, ideally, a next book on standby. Books are my drug of choice for escapism, for stimulation and for comfort. While I’ve always craved the latest front-table bestsellers, I haven’t always had the budget to indulge in them. I’ve learned to source my books wherever I can – I can’t pass a charity shop without checking their shelves.

Our local library, by the way, is not great and anyway, the ownership of the book, the shelving of it amongst its peers, is all part of my habit.

For many years I’ve simply read the best I could find at a small price. Slim books were largely ignored as the page to price ratio was unsatisfactory. If I splurged on a shiny new book it needed to be BIG. I’ve spent happy hours scouring the shelves of Waterstone’s looking for something to match Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.

In the last couple of years, call it a mid-life crisis if you will, I’ve realised that I need to be more discerning. I know now, as I somehow didn’t quite accept before, that I will eventually die without having read all the books that I should have read and, much worse, all the books that I wanted to have read.

Now I keep lists. When I approach the dusty shelves of a charity shop or those huge stacks at the Ballinora Christmas Bazaar (aka the bizarre bazaar due to outlandish nature of items on offer) I do my best, I try (not claiming perfection here) to limit my purchases to books on my list. I just don’t have TIME to waste on fifty shades of shite, however cheap its going.

To get to the point, three such listed books leapt from the 2-for-a-euro ranks and I pounced on them with unadulterated glee. I have reveled in reading these in ‘off’ mode. No note-taking, no recipe-making, no sales-pitch reviews.

In brief:

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

This one has been on The List for years but fell down the slim book chasm. It’s extremely short, barely a novella, but gloriously good fun.

Her Majesty the Queen happens by chance upon the visiting library bus at Buckingham Palace. Curiosity leads her to chat to the driver and politeness forces her to take out a book.

“Is there anything you would recommend?”
“What does Your Majesty like?”
The Queen hesitated, because to tell the truth she wasn’t sure. She’d never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did, but liking books was something she left to other people.

Before she really understands what is happening, Her Majesty becomes a Reader. In other words, an Addict.

And later:

There was sadness to her reading, too, and for the first time in her life she felt there was a good deal she had missed.

Wonderful. The perfect book for anyone who knows they love books, or anyone who thinks they don’t.

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

A comment I read on Instagram, someone saying they hated the ending, was enough to put me off buying The Goldfinch. Tartt’s books seem to divide people. When I posted a photo on Instagram lots of people said they loved this book but dislike another, or the opposite, loved her other books but couldn’t get into this one.

I thought The Goldfinch was a cracking read. I was hooked from the off and had to be physically prised out of it when the Christmas visitors rang the doorbell.

It is the story of a boy who loses his mother in a terrorist bombing of a New York art gallery, and somehow walks away with a priceless painting.

In complete contrast to The Uncommon Reader, it’s massive. Part art-heist, part family saga, part sordid tale of drugs and violence, part philosophical treatise on the meaning of Art, perhaps it tries to be too much. Some sections are written in what seems unnecessarily minute detail. Then years are skimmed or skipped. I might have got cross about that, had I not been breathless to find out what happened.

The protagonist, Theo Decker, got on my nerves. I mean he literally made me nervous. His choices made no sense which was fine when he was a kid but got close to incredible as he got older. A nagging fear that the whole plot was on the verge of collapse only added to the almost unbearable suspense.

It’s a book that doesn’t get to the point until the very end. I liked that. And I like the point.

Here’s a line:

-a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart by all kinds of angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you.

Have you had that happen? Mine is this one. I’m not alone; it was voted Ireland’s favourite painting. We’re a romantic lot.

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

Can you forgive my lack of enthusiasm for a book, another book, about slavery in America? The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize. Obama called it terrific and The Guardian called it devastating and my heart just sank every one of the half dozen or so times I picked it up in a bookshop, and put it down again.

I put it on the list and on the long finger. Then I found it at the bazaar propped up against Obama’s Dreams From My Father and I bought both (for a euro!).

I bought it because I thought I should. I finished it with a blush of shame for my ingratitude. I can read whatever the hell I want and for that alone I ought to be grateful. It’s easy to say that but rarely we mean it.

Have you read it? Layer upon layer of ingenuity. I finished it late the other night. It was still in my head when I turned over the following morning. I must have been processing it all night. My waking thought was “The star…Black Beauty…f***ing brilliant.”

For readability, pathos and creativity, The Underground Railroad is awesome.

I read this book only because I thought I should. You should read it.

Three very different books but they had a thread in common. Art, art as pictures or music or books, is certainly more than a luxury. Art is a privilege but also somehow a necessity.

Donna Tartt quotes this line from Nietzche:

We have art in order not to  die of the truth.

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I’m moving on now to the books Santy brought for my family. Fortunately, Santy has a peculiar habit of delivering books I’m aching to read.

I finished Nigel by Monty Don earlier today. Gardeners of these islands are familiar with the presenter of BBC’s Gardeners’ World and his handsome, scene-stealing Golden Retriever.

The book is a mixed bag – stories of Nigel’s antics, memories of other beloved dogs and a history of the garden at Longmeadow. It reads as though Monty just sat down every now and then and spilled a few thoughts on to a page, much like a blog post, and they all got stitched together into a book. He writes as he speaks, gently, but also firmly enough to keep the reader to heel.

If you like dogs and gardens, it’s a lovely read. I wept. Husband wept.

Charlie slept on.IMG_1128

One last thing, I learned a new word from Alan Bennett.

Opsimath: one who learns only late in life.

That’s me.

15 thoughts on “Feeding My Habit.

  1. Love this post, Lynda. I came to reading (as in, I came to consider myself a READER, which is something entirely different) quite late in life (as in, in my early 20s /rolls eyes/) and I have never been able to shake the feeling that I am playing a game of catch-up. (Funnily enough, my latest post links to the cringe-worthy post I wrote about THAT, a couple years ago; we are, yet again, on similar wavelengths, you and I.) That feeling of urgent catch-up has led me to something bordering on paralysis when it comes to choosing what-to-read-next; just as you said —- I don’t have time to waste reading things that aren’t going to do *something* for me.

    I also know what you mean by wanting to OWN the books you read, that that is part-and-parcel of the habit. I’ve been trying to use our library more (because: stuff! But also because our (very small) branch library is so unbelievably sweet, housed in a historical house, of all things!), but I must confess that it STILL bothers me that I do not own a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society…

    (WordPress giving me trouble; I hope this isn’t a duplicate comment)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I hate going to a shelf to find a book I loved and then discovering I never got it back from whoever I loaned it to. Drives me nuts!
      I recognize that paralysis too. Try The Uncommon Reader, you won’t regret it.
      Ps I envy you that library.

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  2. Fifty Shades of Shite. Snort! Thanks for that. I too loved “The Goldfinch”, and had the pleasure of meeting Donna Tartt in the restroom at the San Francisco airport one time. I recognized her from the photo on the jacket of one of her other books–I forget which. Anyhow, I will note your other suggestions, because you never steer me wrong. I just ordered “Travellers in the Third Reich” for blog research purposes, though that surely doesn’t qualify as a pleasure read. My recent favorite was “Life After Life”, and now I’m about halfway through “A God In Ruins”. “The Book Of Night Women” just about wrecked me, and it gave me nightmares, but I persisted. If people lived through that stuff, then the very least I can do is read about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I admire that final remark, if they endured it we should be able to read it. A powerful notion. Kate Atkinson probably ranks as my number one at the moment, can’t wait for her new book this year.
      Not much chance of bumping into celebrities down my neck of the woods!
      Good luck with the research. I’m launching today into a book called I Contain Multitudes, a microbiology book, equally for research. Not sure how much fun that will be.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an enjoyable post, it really resonates with me. I am an avid listener of audiobooks, I love how both narrator and author bring a story to life. I struggled with the Goldfinch, it went on and on and on. I am not very patient. Having said that, my criteria for money well spent on an audiobook is a minimum of 10 hours of solid story time. I guess I, too, am trying to match “a suitable boy” (which I just remember I never finished). It is a ruinous hobby, audiobooks (but I have a subscription). I might just pick up the uncommon reader, it sounds like an entertaining short book.

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  4. A suitable Boy is sitting waiting in one of my many boxes to be read when we finally unpack. I adore these huge tomes that become constant companions for well on over six months. Shantaram I have recently finished and really enjoyed from page one to the end, along with a few science fiction books, a genre I do love. The Incredible Shrinking Man seemed a silly idea, but the book was very thought provoking in the end about worth and compassion. I proudly admit I didn’t read 50 Shades…but I did read Girl On A Train ….the technical viewpoint juggling was fine, but the plot…the Victoria Station departures and arrivals was more surprising! And the hype made her money – a shame as many great writers make little – an unfair world. I saw Shakespeare and Co in Paris, but didn’t go in. My next blog post will explain why – a sad fog that prevented clear thinking. Lists sound a good idea and more so at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A Suitable Boy is LONG but readable, as opposed to, let’s say Dr. Zhivago. I found Girl on the Train compulsive but ultimately disappointing. 50 shade was a funny one. The most well read and intellectual member of our book club heard, without concentrating too much, that it was the next big thing and chose it as our club read. At the time, I had a tiny nursling who I carried everywhere in a ring sling. Off I went to our bookshop and picked up a copy, without even a glance at the back cover, and paid for it while the sales assistant gave me a vigorous ‘nod and a wink.’ Oblivious, I settled down in the shopping centre food court to nurse the baby, stretched out my legs and, book aloft, began to read. Oh, the shame. The worst of it is that it’s phenomenally boring.

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  5. I love how you say that books are your drug of choice. That expresses my feelings too 🙂 Like you, I don’t have the budget for all the new releases, but we do have a pretty awesome library set up in South Australia, in which you can borrow from right across the state. I did pick up a cheap copy of The Goldfinch recently, since I learned it’s going to become a movie. I’m looking forward to getting into it, especially after what you have to say.

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