After the blog birthday celebrations yesterday this might sound like it is going to be a bit of a maudlin topic here today, I am going to try not to let it be, yet it is something I have been pondering over the last year or so and actually discussing a lot in the last couple of weeks… Am I actually the literary reader I think I am and does it matter if I’m not, most of all will I ever be happy with the reader that I am? Ironically the people who I have been talking to about it, and who I would think know what they do and don’t like book wise, often ponder the same thing. So, is it just something that we all ask ourselves all the time?
The thing that has been making me ponder whether I am literary enough, or maybe a ‘good enough’ reader describes it better, is that old chestnut of Mr Charles Dickens (in such high esteem is he held I always think I should call him Sir). People have always been baffled by the fact that I am a veracious reader and yet he is an author I have never read. Even my own mother once said, probably in jest I am hoping, that she was ‘amazed’ that I could ‘write a book blog and review books and yet never have read Dickens in your life’. It always doubly surprises people when they know I love all things Victorian, ‘I mean who on earth chronicled the world at that time like Dickens?’ My response to that is usually ‘Wilkie Collins… Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… Oscar Wilde…’ I daren’t add insult to injury by adding I have not read Hardy, Trollope (neither Anthony nor Joanna, ha), Elliott and only some very short jottings by Austen, not one of her novels – though I have tried to a few times.
I am not proud that I have not read these authors, nor am I ashamed of it. It is fact. What I don’t like is the feeling I am judged for it. Some may say here that maybe I shouldn’t mention it; like I did at a job interview I had for a bookish charity and didn’t get the role mainly because I admitted ‘I hadn’t read Dickens and had had a tricky relationship at school with Shakespeare’. What disappointed me here was that this charity wanted to encourage people to read, I am not sure plonking a Dickens in front of anyone who doesn’t read much is going to be an initial treat, I would be scared of it. It just seems snobbish. A comment on my blog at the time said ‘well if you look back at what you have been reading it isn’t very literary’ but I haven’t been reviewing Green carnation submissions and some of those are very, and wonderfully so, literary though I am enjoying the more commercial submissions too.
Tangent aside and back to my main point though, why hide the fact I have not read these authors? I am sure there are many more people in my situation, who love a good book, who have yet to (and may never) read these authors. Is it like a literary version of leprosy not having read every classic by the age of eighteen or something? It almost makes me want to never read Dickens as a dirty Dickensian protest, ha.
I have read many classics, ‘Jane Eyre’ is one of my all time favourite books, but I don’t think you have to have mastered them all to be a good reader or to critique what you do and don’t like in a book, all you have to do is read and read and read and read some more. Yet this leads to another question, are we ever happy with the reader we are? I am not sure I am, in fact I am not even sure I still know what sort of reader I am.
Interestingly I thought this might be the fact that blogging for the last half a decade has widened my reading choices so much, a double edged sword. However my friend AJ (who did the Edinburgh Festival report for me) has just started his own new blog, AJ Reads (add it to your favourites), and has been asking himself the same questions. He too is another person who has yet to read Dickens, Austen, et al – which I think has made us bond all the more and may lead to a joint venture. AJ starting his blog has made him look at what he hasn’t read yet, what that means and what sort of reader he is and I am doing the same five years into blogging (both in our thirties) makes me wonder if we just always ask that question of ourselves and maybe that is a natural and good thing?
If someone asked me ‘what is your favourite genre of book?’ I would be stumped. I like literary novels, I love a good crime (cosy or not, more not). I love contemporary modern literature, literature of all walks of life in translation and can happily get lost in a good Victorian sensation or a slightly twee 1930’s novel. In my head I am simply an eclectic reader. Yet again I sometimes feel that I should be more reigned in, shouldn’t I know what I like most by now? I still find myself talking to people at book group (who have admittedly joined a book group to read outside the box) or seeing blogs where they know just what they do and don’t like I find myself sometimes getting a little envious as mine seems so haphazard. But maybe they are thinking the same thing really?
Does anyone else ever feel they are still unsure of what reader they are, or if indeed they are good enough? Is it natural? Do we always feel in awe of other readers reading? Do we ever feel we are a literary (or crimey, sci-fi-y, ha) as we could be? I mean we simply can’t read all the books and all the authors in the world can we? Isn’t being ‘literary’ actually being eclectic in our reading and trying out as many books in and out our comfort zone as we can and simply loving books?