There are almost as many reasons to read as there are books. For one person, it might be to escape to a different place, while for another person it might be to understand a different point of view.
A friend recently told me how much she hates challenging books – she just wants to read to relax, not to struggle to remember names or understand an intricate plotline.
It made me consider why I read. Partly, it is to fall asleep at night. One of my favourite times of the day (ok, my very, very favourite) is when my head hits the pillow and I open my book, electric blanket set to high.
However, there is more to it than that. In fact, the reasons why I’m reading vary a little for each book that I read.
Here are my most recent pics and why I chose to read them, and why they mattered.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
Since I had loved One Hundred Years of Solitude when I read it as a young adult, I wanted to see whether magical realism was still as wondrous and captivating as it had been. It seemed that this was the book with which to find out, as it had been shortlisted for the Stella Prize.
Unfortunately, it seems that I’ve fallen out of love with magical realism, and rather than being swept away with the story of a family’s struggles through a time of war and upheaval, as plenty of other readers had been, I ploughed through the book.
In the end, I read it because I started it, and I’m glad that I did. I feel that even though I didn’t find this to be an easy read, I did learn about a different place, and also stretched my mind into a different shape while I read this exotic style of writing and lyrical language.
I was curious about the ancient classics, but not yet brave enough to tackle an actual ancient classic. The new edition of Homer’s Odyssey was in the news after being translated into English by a woman for the first time, which piqued my interest, and then Circe, a reimagining of a section of the Odyssey attracted attention. This seemed like a nice intermediary between a typical, contemporary novel and an ancient classic. And so it was – it introduced me to the worlds of the Gods Helios and Zeus in the language of today, in a way that was both accessible and illuminating. Perhaps next I will try the book that inspired it.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
My husband bought this one for me for my birthday. There is something particularly thoughtful and considered about the gift of a book, and I know he thought carefully before selecting this one. It is not just a book of war that is necessary in its truths, but also a love story.
Read during an uncertain time in international politics, this book was even more saddening and relevant than it might have been at other times. It is an old story, but one which survives – and deserves – the retelling, again and again.
Our Souls at Night
An overseas friend recommended Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, and when it appeared on the Dymocks top 100 list, I decided to see why it was so popular. After reading this book, I immediately understood why so many readers loved this book. It was a gentle meditation on friendship, loneliness and ageing, and was unlike any other book that I had read. That it was the last book Haruf wrote before he died made this story all the more poignant.
Earlier in the year, a colleague mentioned that Extinctions was on her to-read list, then it turned out that the author, Josephine Wilson, was giving a talk at the Clunes Booktown Festival. So, my colleague loaned me the book and I read it just in time for the festival. I was so grateful I did – it was a book that was highly readable, but also with great depth, addressing issues of race, sexism, families and regret.
I was curious to know what the fuss was about, and when a friend lent me her copy, it was the perfect opportunity to find out. This book was a pleasure – it was easy to read on those nights when I was tired after a day at work, but also interesting enough to transport me from my bed to the country town in which it was set.
The Last Mrs Parrish
I hadn’t heard of this book before a friend offered it to me, saying it was a ‘must read’. Turns out, it was pure escapism. The Last Mrs Parrish is irresistible – the story of a woman who comes along with aim of shaking up the perfect society marriage. It might seem a cliché, but it was also impossible to put down.
A Long Way from Home
My father-in-law left Peter Carey’s most recent book at my house when he came to stay. The story is about a couple from Bacchus Marsh who embarks on the Redex car trial, with a narrator who experiences unexpected links to a station in outback Australia and its Indigenous inhabitants. It was quietly funny, and while it was not necessarily a book that I would have chosen myself, I feel that I learnt something from reading it, about Australia’s past and the unreliable nature of the history we might have learnt about at school.
The long and winding reading journey
As Justine Hyde wrote in her beautiful essay in Meanjin, titled ‘What I’m Reading’, the reader’s journey is one with many diversions.
“I read like a child wandering through a garden. I start out with the intent to explore within a form, or to trace a genre. I set my path, only to be distracted by unusual blooms from out of unexpected corners. I chase the shimmering wings of a dragonfly down a verdant dead end. I become tangled in an unfurling vine. I crisscross the garden at intersecting angles and ramble in looping trails.”
There is no map that marks the ideal direction in which to travel – no ideal proportion of contemporary fiction, classics, genre works or nonfiction masterpieces.
Sometimes it comes down to the $3 book at the market stall, or the one a friend won’t stop talking about; a prize-winner, a bestseller or a discovery that I pretend is all my own.
In the doomed fashion of any New Year’s resolution, this year I resolved to choose my books more consciously. But, perhaps that is a flawed perspective when it comes to a lifetime of reading. The beauty of books lies in the unexpected places they will take you, the hidden wisdom and joy they contain. Perhaps, the less conscious the decision-making, the more rewarding the reading journey.