As a child, I read like other people would breathe. The bookshop has always been one of my favourite places. I was a quick reader and would read pretty much anything. The habit stayed with me through my teenage years although my preferences excluded horror and anything too post-apocalyptic or dystopian. A friend of mine once explained his aversion to horror movies by explaining how he watched films to escape from real life and come back feeling a bit better – not worse, which is how he would feel after horror films, and I feel the same about books.
That said, almost three years ago I began working unsocial hours. I didn’t have a set roster, and my shifts could be a mixture of evenings, weekends and nights. Combined with my trying to do a PhD, there wasn’t much time left for reading. Aside from the perpetual guilt that lingers whenever I’m doing a course that if I’m reading it should be something academic, the upside-down nature of my routine meant that any free time was dedicated to sleeping or ‘relaxing’ (read: slumped somewhere comfy, half-zombified, brain switched very firmly off).
I quit that job in the earlier part of last year, and dedicated the rest of 2016 to getting my life back on a track. I’m still not sure it’s exactly on the track I specifically want it to be on, but I’m on a track of sorts now, and I feel like I’m in the driver’s cabin, if not firmly behind the wheel – progress happens in baby steps, folks!
part of getting back on track was getting back to reading. I love reading for lots of reasons – it’s a great feeling to escape into a good book when you’re having a bad day, there’s few feelings better than curling up with a blanket, a cup of tea, something sweet and a book, and there’s certainly no greater test of willpower (for me anyway) than the struggle to resist the temptation for just one more page/chapter last thing at night. I love being transported into different worlds and lives. I love how certain writers are so talented that they can make you feel as though you are the main character, living right there in the pages. I love the feeling when you finish a book that’s somehow changed your perspective in some way, and you look at the world through slightly different eyes.
I love how, somewhere along the way in history, somebody invented symbols and dye and paper and somebody figured out that if we put them together in a certain way, and we all agreed that certain symbols had certain meaning when put together in a certain way, and somebody created this made-up story in their heads and wrote it down, and I can pick it up and my eyes follow the symbols in a pre-determined order across the pages, and this creates such an experience, that I can lose hours, days of my time to doing it. I can experience emotions that I would rarely experience in my day-to-day life and feel like I’ve connected to a character who has only ever existed in a collective imagination of the writer and readers. I love reading.
So clearly, part of my ‘track’ was always going to involve getting back into reading. I started properly using my GoodReads account and I joined Irish DJ Rick O’Shea’s book club on Facebook. For 2017 I decided I would make it my business to read every night before going to bed, as I did when I was younger, rather than committing the ultimate ‘blue-screen’ crime of scrolling aimlessly on my phone.
It’s now the 6th of January. How am I getting on I hear you ask?
I have read a whole 26 pages. Yes, you read that right. Twenty-Six. You also read correctly that I mentioned earlier how I was a quick reader. So how has it taken me six days to make it through twenty-six pages?
It is because I chose badly in my first book of the year. I’m not saying that the book is bad – how can I judge, a mere twenty-six pages in? Before I explain, let me introduce you to the culprit: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride. On the surface of it, it seemed a good choice. Quite highly acclaimed, from what I could see, written by an Irish author – always good to support the home team, and not overly long – great, a nice, short, native book – surely I can manage this and get into the swing of things nicely.
The story is based around a young girl and her brother, who suffers from Cancer, and their life as the young girl grows. What I did not realise in selecting this as Sarah’s First Book of 2017 was the style it is written in. My first reading lesson of the year is to pay attention to dust-jacket blurbs when you read them. Like, really pay attention. The clues on the back of this book include the following two phrases: “Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense” & ” to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head” – had I paid attention I would be in a different situation than I am now.
I have no issue with differing styles of writing – I like to challenge myself to avoid rocking into a rut of sameness when it comes to reading. That said, choosing to start a book written in the style of this one, when my aim was to read last thing at night to switch my brain off, and to do this when I know the next week is going to be full of the joys of re-adjusting to that six o’clock in the morning alarm and making my brain work all day; that was not smart. That is why it is six days later and I am twenty-six pages in.
This one could take a while, and I might need to take up reading at other times of the day (hello, bus journeys!). I’m currently attempting a 30-day podcast listening challenge during my commute (more about that another day), but I can see myself bumping that in favour of this book. Because, bad choosing aside, and I know its early doors to be calling it at twenty-six pages in, I’ve got my reading mojo back.