On reading novels again.

I think it was Oscar Wilde who first said, ‘If you go to the supermarket when you’re hungry, you’ll end up buying more’. As ever, Wilde cuts right to the truth of the matter, and its always been the same for me, particularly with books. I go weeks without buying any books, and then have a sudden splurdge.

When I buy a book I’m buying in to the idea of reading it in the most heavenly circumstances. Bright summer light streaming in through the window, a feeling of absolute contentment, and the book being so well written and engaging that life itself becomes a transcendental bliss, a quiet hum for the senses.

When I was studying for university and then postgrad, I read because I had to read, and I read an awful lot, and a lot of that was awful. I still have a library of academic tomes on how to run museums and the correct procedures for hanging a painting. By the time I finished my degree and my dissertation, I felt that I didn’t want to read, ever again. Reading became a chore, and I would read for three hours a day, before work, after work, and at spare moments while I was at work.

It’s taken a good four or five years to realise that reading can be done for fun. I didn’t realise I needed glasses until just as my degree was finishing, reading was giving me headaches and I went to the doctor and he sent me to the opticians. The words would dance and move around on the page, the letters would cram themselves up to the letters next to them, and it would take me three attempts to read a sentence, sometimes. And then I’d no longer comprehend the sentence because I was too busy working out what the words and letters were. This was particularly evident during the time that I read Finnegan’s Wake.

I’m reading now for pleasure. There are certain books which I’ve been reading for research, mostly books by spoken word artists and comedians, or books about poetic theory or comedy theory, but now I’m reading for pleasure. I luxuriate in sentences and I take my time to read a book in complete relaxation. In such a way I have began to really appreciate again the form of the novel. I have also been rediscovering books I’d previously read, such as those by Haruki Murakami, Graham Greene, Edmund White, the short stories of Dorothy Parker. I’m just about to start rereading Angela Carter.

Because of this, I’ve started getting excitable around bookshops again. How lovingly do I run my fingers over the covers of random paperbacks, imagining taking them home and reading them. I have fondled many a bestseller. Naturally, a hectic life ensures that the actual act of reading can never live up to this ideal, but it’s like buying a dream. Some time over the next day or so I shall be finishing Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana, a book I have enjoyed even if one does turn a blind eye to the casual 1950s racism. His spare sentences and use of dialogue are among the best.

So the point of this blog is to reaffirm that I have reaffirmed my love of the literary novel and reading as a pastime.

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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