Walking round an independent bookshop this morning, I experienced overwhelming feelings of anxiety and dread. I wasn’t being followed and I hadn’t forgotten my debit card. My problem was much worse.
Being an author and publisher, I’m in regular contact with other creative souls – writer who express themselves with a succinct brilliance, and others whose wordy exuberance inspires and challenges me constantly. I love to hear their work and their comments on mine.
But… and it is a big but… I have this very real sense of literary inadequacy. I can’t remember the last time I read a bestseller purchased from the Asda shelves, or from the Waterstones display tables. I can’t converse on the fashionable, the literary, or even on the archaic. In other words, I’m not what anyone would call well-read when it comes to the contemporary classics.
That doesn’t mean I don’t read – what it means is that I don’t read the correct, approved books – the ones that might be raved about on Radio 4, in the pages of a woman’s mag, or at a trendy book club. But should I? I’ve read plenty of classics and I happily select books at random. Unless the subject matter is one I dislike intensely (and there aren’t many – military history, heraldry and monarchic dynasties are three that come to mind!) I’ll give the book a go.
Perhaps this is down to stubbornness, but I don’t tend to read stuff till any furore has already died down, and I can read without reference to hype. But this means I’m always at least five years behind my more fashionable reading friends. Hence the anxiety.
I suppose I could read reviews, thus pretending that books have been read. I could even actually read the books I ‘should’ read, though I’d have no idea where to start, and which of the famous names to follow as priority.
But I’d rather watch random TV from eras long gone – and I have the same attitude to reading books. Take it at my own pace with no agenda and no ‘must read’ list. This way I come across some real stinkers as well as some perfect classics. I’m not sure I’m prepared to lose that spontaneity.
So, I guess I must live with this literary inadequacy and accept that there’s no way for anyone to read all the decent books that have been written – or all the bad books, for that matter.
There’s more to life than being at the forefront of fashion. Life’s too short, anyway. I’d rather just read and be happy.