>Since I started this academic caper, I’ve regularly whinged about how reading has become ‘work’ and, therefore, less enjoyable. It was true for quite a few years, particularly because I was neck-deep in literary studies and felt the need to read all the books that might be useful to my project, even when the novels in question weren’t the type of texts I’d enjoy. Work reading isn’t meant to be enjoyable reading, and it depleted my textual focus such that I found solace in the shorter and more shallow embrace of glossy and/or trashy magazines (Who was a staple, with the occasional Vanity Fair thrown in when I was feeling flush with cash and time), and that stalwart of mental-bubble-gum-chewing, the TV.
Now that I’m working on projects that have nothing to do with literary studies per se, and take me off on paths more sociological, historical and cultural researchy, I’m reading again with a vengeance. Well, with as much vengeance as a full-time job, 2+yr-old and half-decent home-life will allow. Joining bookmooch boosted my ‘To Read’ pile immeasurably, and it supplemented my usual book infusions from birthday and xmas presents. I also take many recs from friends, and bookboy in particular (whose taste in books and genres is very similar to mine, even though he persists in reading Patricia Cornwell and on that particular author we’ve parted ways…!). Recently, a very good buddy came to stay for a few days and handed on a couple of novels she’d finished. I’d recently passed Status Anxiety (Alain de Botton) on to her, which I’d been sent by an online friend. I love circulating books. When it works smoothly and richly, it’s such an intimate, yet non-intrusive, mode of social bonding. There have been a few friendships that have developed in leaps and bounds because of bookswapping, and a handful of folk I’ve always regretted not knowing better after getting a glimpse of their exciting and well-loved collections (regretting the ‘not knowing better’ because of a missed possible friendship, not because of lost opportunities to cadge books!).
That said, when one’s tastes in reading and a friend’s diverge significantly, it can get awkward. It has often been the case that friendly acquaintances whose bookcases are full of things I would never read/enjoy do not go on to become good friends. I remember being invited to another postgrad’s place for the first time and meeting her chatty partner and beloved cat. She had beautifully carved shelves full of books, which I automatically started browsing. She was very sweet and immediately said that I should feel free to help myself to whatever might be of interest. I was a bit stuck. She had every Charles Dickens novel there was (some in several editions), buckets of (approx) Victorian poetry, expensively-bound Shakespeare, and many other uber-classical texts. I’m not a classical text reader, and have had an aversion to Dickens ever since studying Great Expectations in high school (then having to re-read it when I was doing a critical analysis of Brian Castro’s Pomeroy, which drew on Dickens’ narrative/characters in a typically playful manner). I had to beg off and declare that I shouldn’t be taking anything home right then as the thesis was misbehaving, etc. We didn’t stay close after we finished our degrees.
Right now? I’m finishing off The Day of the Jackal (Frederick Forsyth; a bookboy rec), and am about a third of the way through an Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody) novel. I’m also partway through The Dumas Club, but lost momentum on that because I started reading Forsyth on a plane trip and it sucked me in.