It’s a sad fact that most of the reading I do nowadays is work-related. 200+ news articles a day to sort through for Save Your Fork and TasteTO, books to review, articles to edit. And even my “just for fun” stack of reading tends towards food theory.
Before the holidays I combed the book guides in the newspapers and spent an afternoon on the Toronto Public Library website requesting books, a number of which were novels. Three of them finally became available last week and I bemoaned my misfortune and lack of foresight in not making some of them inactive (TPL lets you stay in the queue for popular books but accept them only when you’re ready). How was I going to get through all of these in the three weeks I was allowed to have them checked out?
Of course, I forgot how fast I can read fiction. I forgot what’s it’s like to get my nose in a book. I forgot that when I’m in the middle of a story, nothing else matters and nothing else registers. Being pulled from that story, whether by interruption or necessity is physically, agonizingly painful. Like being awakened in the middle of a sound sleep and dragged out of bed. My facial expression during the 24 hours it took me to read The Book of Negroes was almost permanently at a scowl unless I was actually reading. If I wasn’t in the book, I was thinking about how I could get back to it, or how perturbed I was at having to set it down.
The book wasn’t perfect – while The Book of Negroes has received critical acclaim, there were parts that were a bit clunky or lacking in detail for me. There were parts of the plot that seemed unreasonable and illogical. But it was still an engrossing, really poignant story.
Reading non-fiction the majority of the time, I never really get engrossed. Involved, maybe, but often lots of it is quite dry, full of statistics about farms and things like pesticides (the curse of the food writer). Sometimes it can take me a month or more to get through a particularly difficult book because I don’t ever take the time to sit down and just read. That’s a luxury I can seldom afford.
But novels don’t give you a choice – novels demand to be read, in full, with no breaks – like a movie. They demand that the housework be neglected, commitments be set aside, dogs be ignored and husbands be brushed off – all so that they can engulf and consume the reader.
I don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like to devote to reading fiction. If I tried, nothing else would get done, my world would come to a grinding halt. So it’s a treat that I mete out, little by little. And when I’ve got my nose in a book, think twice before disturbing me. And don’t be surprised if I scowl when you finally get my attention.