On Books

I love books. I am never without at least one (usually two or three) on the go. I even love books I don’t like. Books are like bricks: the more you have the bigger and safer the house you can build – in this case a mansion of the imagination. I’m always deeply suspicious of people who say they don’t like reading. I don’t want to sound like a snob but, when it comes to books, I am one. That’s not to say I only value “literature” – if you get your kicks from Dan Brown then, to me, you like books as much as someone who get their kicks from Dostoevsky. And that puts you immediately on the list of people I want to talk to. Even those who “only read magazines” or “like manuals and instruction books and stuff” are A-OK to me.

I’ve read some shit in my time, though. I Am Pilgrim was dire, I can’t finish Lord Of The Rings and Stephen King bores the hell out of me these days. I tend to gravitate toward great swathes of odds and ends, bookshop flotsam and jetsam, forgotten gems and unloved biblio-orphans – often the best books are the ones nobody wants to read.

I also have a list of the best places to read, cross-referenced with the kind of book you should be reading there. For instance Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is best read in the bath at 2am, Stewart Lee’s The Perfect Fool is an almost tailor-made Bus Book and J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series is best read over and over and over, anywhere and everywhere. Ah, the Bus Book! I travel to work by public transport every day and the journey takes anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. There’s nothing better than losing yourself for that almost-hour in a good book. When fellow passengers turn to wisps of smoke, getting on and off unnoticed as you follow (for example) Alice down the rabbit hole, you know you’ve found a proper Bus Book. And that last-minute rush to finish the chapter before the bus pulls into your final destination is a feeling that lingers throughout the day – invariably you’re going to re-read that last paragraph when you get on the bus again after work, savouring the prose in a way you couldn’t the first time round.

I’ve got hundreds of book scattered around the place. Books are my crack, my designer handbags, my MTG cards; they are my vice. I have found myself browsing, selecting and paying for books on Amazon without realising I’m doing so. I’ve accidentally bought more books than I’ve had accidental hot dinners. Like a worldly-wise yet pitiable alcoholic does his drinking I will excuse, explain but ever apologise for my insatiable appetite for inches-thick tomes and cheap paperbacks. My love for books will eventually devour me; I welcome it.

Yes. It’s books. Even the sound of the word creates an image of wisdom and wonder; the hoot of an owl in specs. They make you clever, they make you cry, they make you laugh and wince and wonder. They inhabit your dreams and maybe one day your dreams will inhabit a book. They say everyone has a novel in them. I’ve tried to scrape mine out but it is as yet unforthcoming. So until it loosens up enough to be picked and poked onto the page I’ll read other people’s. Always. Forever.

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