Unpacking My Library Dept.: Last year I started buying a lot of books again for the first time since I was 16. The next trick is finishing some of them. My shelves are stuffed with admissions of defeat: maybe one time in four I’ve lasted until ‘The End’. Sometimes I’ve got twenty or thirty pages in, sometimes halfway through, sometimes I’ve been perverse enough to think “no more!” with only a chapter to go. Reading non-fiction makes things even worse: so many books front-load their arguments and run out of steam. Some just put their whole point in the introduction – why even read something like Philip Bobbitt’s The Shield Of Achilles when he’s so helpfully summarised it before the book’s even started? (Not for the prose, that’s for sure!).
When I read novels I almost delight in stopping them early – I resent the assumed contract the book has with me, that I care about the end of the tawdry story. Some books – titles by Nicola Barker and Michel Houellebecq for instance – I wish I had stopped early; it wasn’t that the endings were bad (though Atomised‘s is a bit lame), just that the mood of the book seemed not to require one. They might as well just finish halfway through a sentence, like I often do.
Maybe I should feel bad about this habit, but I don’t. I’ve never sat well with the idea that a book is a sacred object – it’s an object is all: altering, adding to, playing with it are acts of respect not disrespect, they show you care enough about the thing or the words to not just accept them. When I was small I used to eat while I read, tearing the corners off old children’s books, rolling the yellow paper into stalks and biting through it, lost in reading. The books are still marked by my passage through them: I can hardly remember what was in them but I can summon their taste in a moment.