Books and reading and who I was

I went to see Mathilda in London about a year ago. I’m not about to say I loved it – I did really enjoy it but I’ve never read the book because it was published at a time when it just didn’t quite hit my age appropriate reading levels.

But I bought a Mathilda tote bag in London last week for two reasons: a) it’s illustrated by Quentin Blake (hero) and b) I was probably every bit as insufferable as Mathilda as a child. I Read Books. Lots of books.

I bought a lot of books during Covid but somehow, I never read them. Covid was a time o worry and not much to do for some people but I worked the whole way through the pandemic and there was no time for {re]learning Python, learning Japanese, At a point, because the bookshops in Brussels were the only things that were open, my book buying exceeded my bookreading by a substantial amount. My TBR is, at current rates, unworkable. Nevertheless, I am now working through it. There is a hell of a lot of non-fiction there.

Something like eight of them are lined up.

In fairness, I do still read a lot of stuff on social media, but I’ve found that there is never much closure to that. Reddit goes on forever. You cannot finish things on Reddit. I think this is, in a sense, one of the problems with Social Media reading. There is no end. And when we didn’t have online advertising, we didn’t need clickbait titles on news coverage as well. Things have changed, changed utterly, to quote an old man I never really liked all that much.

I’m middle aged now (young according to my mother but old according to the twenty year olds) and some of my time, now that I have some, is spent in reflection about who I am, who I used to be, who people think I am. I spend a lot of time in bookshops. When I go travelling I always want to go to bookshops. I still somehow wind up buying books despite having a monumental amount of books to read.

When I was a child, I used to plough through books. I used to read a lot of children’s fiction until well into my twenties, but also a lot of non-fiction, especially around history. I borrowed books from libraries by the new time and I do have a library card now. But I find actual books are not always practical for me. Those last two words are important because, for example, I see people reading on the metro. I don’t – and have never – really read in 5 minute blocks of time. It’s too short. I’ll happily read on 3 hour train journeys (but it’s been a while since that I have to do those regularly).

Middle aged me would like to go back to ploughing through books. I’m not all that interested in BookTok or Bookstagram per se. There are some booktubers who are fun. I’m just not sure I’ve found my own community. I have friends in bookclubs but that hasn’t really been anything I wanted to do – I was a solitary kid growing up, surrounded by books. I don’t really need help here in terms of access to books as I already have a substantial collection of my own thanks to Covid.

It’s aligned with something else that happened: I used to write stories. I’m not sure how or when that stopped. I know there were notes for two kids novels somewhere in my boxes of notebooks when I was backing up after Dublin. Most of the writing I’ve done in the last 20 years have not been “writing” as in “writing a book, or trying”. I have:

  • kept a diary for more than 30 years
  • written any amount of technical documentation
  • written any amount of governance documentation
  • written any number of formal proposals
  • written an unholy number of professional emails
  • written an unholy number of text messages.

When I was 8, I bought a notebook in the local stationery shop and started working on what was to be a girl detective series called Barbara Nash. I kind of liked Nancy Drew a lot, and the Blyton detective stuff, but I was a kid in rural Ireland, and I absolutely could not relate to a 16 year old in America with her own convertible car. I never wrote that series in the end.

I want to write again. I’m not sure I care about getting a book published but I’d like to get it written anyway. I’m struggling a lot with time management so that’s not helping. Nevertheless, I’ve read two books [at least] this month, and there are a few I am considering finishing that were started further back in the past.

One of the books I read was Diana Wynn-Jones wonderful Howl’s Moving Castle. The most recent one is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. What stands out is that both are fiction – I haven’t read two fiction books in a row in an awfully long time, aside from some romance, which I consider to be pure escapism in a way that Howls Moving Castle is not.

One of the things I’ve toyed with doing over the years is buying some key books from my childhood = a couple I read from the library when I was a young teenager – from AbeBooks. I’m still considering it but in one way I’m afraid. Reading books at different stages in your life can be challenging, particularly if those books were written for children. In particular the books I am interested are the hardback editions of Lorna Hills Sadlers Wells books because they have truly beautiful dustjackets illustrated by Eve Guthrie. I’ve never forgotten them.

Much of my reflections lately have centred on how much I may have left my younger self down by wandering away from who I was then. It isn’t helpd in certain respects by seeing some of the book reading accounts where I’m clearly not really a reader in comparison to some of the high profile bookfluencers. But they are reading books I don’t necessarily want to read. There’s a whole industry around YA books which just don’t talk to me. In the way I felt outside, reading as a child, I feel outside reading as an adult too. I’ve a lot more to think about here, I suspect.