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Confessions of a fickle reader

I’ve just joined Instagram (I know, I know, I’m late to the party), and bookstagram in particular, and have been enjoying seeing the gorgeous photos of book series. There are rows of cloth-bound classics or modern books printed with gold lettering. A gorgeous row of pastel spines, or eye-catching books the colour of gemstones.

My bookshelves, on the other hand, while being my pride and joy, are admittedly a mess of different coloured, styled and shaped books. And it is not just in the appearance of the books that I am a fickle reader. I usually swing wildly between authors and styles of book, reading one one book by a particular author, ticking them off my mental list, and moving on to a book by a different author that I’ve been planning on reading. I intersperse a harrowing story with an uplifting read, and alternate between foreign and Australian authors, child and adult protagonists. In the same way as I  have become accustomed to eating from different cuisines- I couldn’t possibly eat pizza two nights in a row, but follow a night of Italian food with a Thai curry, followed by a roast dinner – I favour variety in my authors and genres.

While I love the mess of books that fills my bookcase, I sometimes crave that lovely consistency that I see on Instagram.

Younger readers seem particularly fond of a series, from Hunger Games to Twilight, and need I mention Harry P? And so was I in the past. As a child, the series I couldn’t get enough of included The Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, The Naughtiest Girl in School, followed a few years later by the many Goosebumps books, and The Baby-Sitters Club.

My son adores the Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, and he has finished the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. And I have noticed that almost all books for young readers are part of series, or at least similar books by the same authors. There are The Dork Diaries, Wimpy Kid, Tom Weekly, The Bad Guys, Captain Underpants … it can be hard to find a stand-alone book among the all the series.

I’m looking forward to introducing him to the Harry Potter books. But in some ways, I’m dreading the idea of dedicating that much time to reading the books of one author. I know that she is one remarkable writer, but still.

It is a feeling I first noticed when I started reading The Hobbit while I was at school, just after my Baby-Sitters Club phase, and put it down before I was even halfway. I think it was the idea of all of those thick books to follow that overwhelmed me. Today’s young readers obviously don’t have the same qualms, as they have been behind a resurgence in popularity for The Lord of the Rings books.

There are signs I am wrong in my trepidation. Last year I read the four books in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, and they formed one of the great reading experiences I have had in recent years. I became immersed in the lives of the characters, and familiar with that small corner of Naples. I understood the motivations of Lila and Elena, feeling their resentment, pain and triumph. When I finished reading them, I felt bereft. It was an experience that couldn’t happen in the space of just one book.

But that hasn’t motivated me even to continue with a series that I’ve started, and enjoyed. I read Pat Barker’s Regeneration and liked it so much that I bought the next two books in the series. Barker’s books are about a convalescence hospital during World War II. They offer fascinating insights into a little-seen aspect of the war – the mental and physical toll the frontline took on returned soldiers. As interesting as the theme, before I pick the next book in the series up, my eye is always drawn by a standalone book, so Barker’s gets put back on the ever-expanding tbr shelf.

So, while I’m looking forward to finding out what all of the Harry Potter mania is about, a part of me is dreading the challenge of tackling such a long series. Hopefully the magic of the story will help me forget the tomes to follow, and all the other writers I could be reading.

And if nothing else, I will think about how lovely that row of books will look on Instagram.

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