What are you reading at the moment?
For a lot of readers that’s a straightforward question – they’re reading the book (singular) that’s beside their bed, on their phone, on their coffee table or in their bag.
And for plenty of others, like myself, the question is trickier. Does the person asking want to know about just one of the books that’s currently on the go? Or are they genuinely asking about the total of what I’m reading?
I gather there’s lots of readers like me, happily engrossed in multiple books simultaneously in our virtuoso displays of synchronised reading. If you’re another of these, you’ll identify with what I’m about to tell. And if you’re not, well, treat this as an insider’s guide to the quirky world of the multiple-book enthusiast…
What are you reading?
Thanks for asking! I’ve actually just finished a book by Garrison Keillor, Happy to be Here. You know Garrison Keillor? He’s the proof that Americans actually can do that deadpan, dry humour that common wisdom claims is beyond them. This book is a collection of pieces, mostly originally from The New Yorker magazine, lovingly depicting the residents of Keillor’s native Minnesota, or the world of arts funding, or social baseball games.
Two favourite pieces: first, the demands for rights for shy people (well, ‘demands’ is the wrong word, it’s more a polite request uttered in an undertone when no one is around.) After all, shy people are discriminated against all the time by those who tell them not to be so shy, when they would never say to a woman or a Third World person, “Don’t be a woman” or “Don’t be so Third.”
I also loved his reappraisal of stepmothers. We’ve been led to associate them with the words ‘cruel’ or ‘wicked’, but Keillor presents statements from three stepdaughters that challenge these misconceptions. As each stepdaughter has previously suffered from publicity, he introduces them by first name only, starting with a woman called Snow. You might not be surprised to find Gretel and Cinderella also featuring.
Sounds good, now let me tell you what I’m reading.
Hang on a sec, you asked what I was reading, and I haven’t finished yet.
Oh, right, fair enough, you did say you’d just finished that one.
Yeah, and so one thing I’m currently reading is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It’s a monster of a book to look at – about 1350 pages in my (signed) hardback edition, covering the lives of four families and those close to them in India just after independence. The BBC have just made a 6 part series of it.
I read it when it first came out, in the mid 90’s, and loved it. I’d always thought I’d return to it someday, but a book that big isn’t something you just pick up on a whim; it needs the right moment. I thought the right moment had come a couple of years ago when I embarked on a reading plan (A reading what? I’ll explain in another blog post) but that was just the start, I read a couple of hundred pages, and then put it down again, until earlier this year, during lockdown. I’m now about two-thirds of the way through, and loving it all over again.
I can see why you haven’t finished it yet, what with reading the Garrison Keillor too.
Well, that, yes, and the others.
Yeah, I always tend to have some non-fiction on the go as well. I find non-fiction better to read in bed than fiction. You can generally read it in smaller chunks, with less temptation to read ‘just one more chapter.’ At the moment beside my bed is a biography of Francis of Assisi. It’s a somewhat uncritical biography, but works well to help me dwell in the company of this gifted and loving man.
Good, now let me tell you about –
The other book I have beside the bed is 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. It’s a charming collection of letters between an American (Hanff) trying to locate second-hand books through a London shop, and the replies she receives from the staff and, gradually, their families and neighbours. You could call it a song of love for books, or an expression of the power of books to bring people together.
Like us, indeed. So that’s the four books I’ve been reading – oh, wait. I also tend to have a book on my phone as well, for those moments when you suddenly find yourself at a loose end, waiting in the car or something. I’m reading Emma on it just now.
Thanks for letting me tell you about all those by the way. It’s great to be able to share with someone how much enjoyment I get from each of those books. You’ve been very patient listening to me. So now, please, tell me what you’re reading.
Well, I’m not someone like you who has five books on the go…
No worries, we’re all different. Just tell me about the one book, then.
Oh, don’t misunderstand me. Five books at once is a little light, a bit dilettantish for me.
So you’re reading –
Ten books. Let me tell you about them. In detail.
How about you? I’d like to use these blogs to write about my own love of reading, but I also want to hear from you about your own favourite reading experiences. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through Twitter or Bookface to tell me more.
So, tell me, what are you reading?