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What shall I read next?

posted on 05 Nov 2017

What shall I read next?

People who have never visited our house before are always surprised by how many books we’ve got – and we’ve got an awful lot to be fair. Pretty much everyone encountering the collection usually say some combination of the following:

Wow! You’ve got a lot of books.

It’s like a bookshop / library.

Have you read them all?

In recent years I’ve taken to saying yes to this latter question even though that’s not strictly true. Actually, it’s nowhere near the truth and in reality I’ll never live long enough to read everything I’ve accumulated. Not that I care about that – it’s a personal library and who knows when I’ll need a book; perhaps sometime or perhaps never.

No, having books I’ll probably never get around to reading isn’t a problem but deciding what I’m going to read next most certainly is. With so much to choose from, you’d think that the decision would be easy – a pleasure even. Browsing at leisure over the packed shelves of books, each one selected by me because I wanted them – what’s not to like.

Well, for me at least it’s actually a bit of a torment. Sometimes too much choice is as bad as no choice – how on Earth do I make the selection? That’s a bit of a rhetorical question actually because what I can tell you is that the decision is often random, frequently seemingly illogical and sometimes downright daft.

What I don’t do is stick to some disciplined chronological sequence. The order they come into the collection has pretty much no bearing on when they get read. There are far too many other influences that come into play:

1.    The mood I’m in. This is, of course so random and impossible to define that it makes serendipity the only word you can use to describe books chosen in this mindset.

 

2.    The influence of a friend/partner. The foolish and rookie mistake of promising someone you know or love that you’ll read a book they’ve recommended and which ties up your reading choice for fear of letting someone down or offending them.

 

3.    Then there’s the insidious role of marketing. A new book with a seductive description, a new jacket or a candidate for a prize can often inveigle its way to the top of your ‘to be read’ pile.

 

4.    Trying to keep the mood going. You’ve just read a book you loved, you’re still loving what you read and you’re still tuned into the world the book created. Then stupidly you try and find another book that will do exactly the same. Doh!

 

5,   Being influenced by another artform - a picture, a record or a film. 

 

6.    Reading a book because you like that author. Oh, I love this author, you tell everyone and then you’re tied by some invisible thread to everything else they write – even the tosh.

 

7.    Rereading. I sometimes need  a book I know is my friend.

 

8.    Reading it for work. This is the Puritan’s choice.

 

Unsurprisingly, the illogicality of how you choose your next read leads to you making mistakes – books started and discarded after a few chapters, books that you read so superficially that you can’t remember them more than two days after they’re finished or books you find are so turgid you can’t help but wonder how the hell they got published. And suddenly you’re in a reading slump; suddenly you’re wondering if you’ll find a book you like ever again; suddenly you wonder if you’re maybe becoming terminally stupid or illiterate…

Then one day, in desperation you raid the shelves again and suddenly you’ve found yourself engrossed – off you go chasing the White Rabbit down the well.

As a dedicated reader I often promise myself that I’ll take a more systematic approach to my reading and ‘read with purpose’ as one piece of email spam encouraged me. But in reality I know I wont. I know I’ll keep getting over-excited about a book, an author or some beautiful set of ideas and I’ll just have to follow them.

You know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Terry Potter

November 2017