I am currently judging a book prize that unsurprisingly involves reading a great many books. In fact I haven’t read this much since I did my History Finals – ten exams in five days and the whole of my degree resting on it. That was over thirty years ago and my most common recurring nightmare ever since has involved exams. For obvious reasons, I am not going to mention authors or titles at this stage but I thought you might like this snippet from my domestic life, the odd exchange between me and my other half (OH) as I started reading for the prize. Of course you would.

DAY ONE: Me: (ranting) When did books get so thick? I mean over 2 inches thick! Is this a new thing. Why haven’t I noticed? Do I never read long books because I don’t like writing them? Some of these are absolute whoppers! Do editors not exist anymore? OH: Get a grip and take some Rescue Remedy.

DAY SEVEN: OH: There’s more to life than books, you know. Me: Mmm?

DAY TEN: OH: (as another box of books arrives) Actually, I’m beginning to feel sorry for you.

DAY ELEVEN: Me: This one’s very good. OH: Well, thank God for that.

DAY THIRTEEN: Me: (looking at pile of books under the TV) to OH in wild panic. I’m never ever going to get through them all.

DAY FOURTEEN: OH: Are you regretting saying you’d do it? I might be if I were you. Me: This one is a bit bonkers but I think in a good way. Half an hour passes. Maybe, actually, in a bad way.

DAY FIFTEEN: Unfortunately a huge cloud of moths flies out from under the chair I am sitting in just as my partner walks into the room. OH: Do you see the moths there fluttering all around you? You’ve been sitting still so long reading you’re hatching moths! Me: No, no it’s because this package, that you might have thought was filled with a book, is actually filled with those moth-killing-sticky-pads. Look, here at my feet. They can smell the pheromones. I am not hatching moths because I have been sitting here for such a long time reading. No, I am not.

DAY SEVENTEEN: Me to OH: I cannot read more than four books in a week. That’s it. If one is a fat one then I can only manage three. OH: Can’t you cheat? Me: No.

DAY TWENTY-ONE: Me to OH I am never going to give a character of mine green eyes and I am never going to describe a character as having black eyes. Never, never, never… OH: Didn’t Sam (the protagonist in my crime novels) have green eyes? Me: Did she?OH: Whatever. Those moth pads aren’t working.

DAY TWENTY-EIGHT: I realise I have a very low tolerance for descriptions of landscape and also buildings. I wonder if I have ever described a building in any of my books or even a field, if it comes to that. I realise that my vocabulary for writing about buildings is extremely limited and become slightly fixated on it. Me to OH (on the bus heading in to town) Look at that building over there. That bit. The bit that slopes. How would you describe it? OH: It’s a roof! And whatever this is, from my point of view it does not count as conversation.

DAY THIRTY: Me: I need paragraphs. I cannot read a book without any indentations. I feel as if I’m being forced to read Henry James. No paragraphs mean no hope. OH: Is this the prima donna phase? You’re talking gibberish again. Go for a walk. The wisteria is out in the park. Go for a walk now. NOW.

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When I return there is a large pile of boxes in the hall. OH: (kicking them lightly) More books came while you away. Me: Oh God. OH. But have you seen the sticky moth pad things? They’re absolutely covered. Me: Wow!

Current state of affairs: Total number to read: 86. Number read: 31. Number of moth deaths: 112. Two months to go.

So here’s the question. How quickly do you read? How many books do you read in a week? Just asking for a friend.






Read this book!

In Alberto Manguel’s book, A Reader on Reading there’s a very funny chapter titled The Ideal Reader and I thought I’d pick out a few sentences and interact with them. Here goes …

Alberto: The ideal reader is not a taxidermist.

Me: Alberto, excuse me but is that by any chance a typo? Even if it’s not I’ve got to disagree with you there. What have you got against taxidermists? Personally, I don’t care. I’ll take a taxidermist any day of the week. They might have been stuffing an owl a day ago but if they follow my blog or buy my book or even borrow it from a friend they are my ideal.

Alberto: The ideal reader has no interest in the writings of Bret Easton Ellis.

Me: Really? What have you got against poor Bret. Oh dear, look what I have in my hand. A signed copy of Glamorama … how on earth did I get that? I have absolutely no recollection … none whatsoever… maybe I was drunk … maybe … oh, no, now it’s all coming back to me… It was 1999. It was a dark and stormy night. I had just closed the bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. The seedy lights of Soho beckoned as I turned up the collar of my coat and headed north …

Alberto: The ideal reader has a wicked sense of humour.

Me: I’m with you there Alberto.

Alberto: Every book, good or bad, has its ideal reader.

Me: Well, that’s a relief.

Alberto: The ideal reader proselytizes.

Me: Darling Alberto, have I told you how much I love your book? I really love it. I would not have this blog post without it. Oh God, that’s fawning not proselytizing. How very embarrassing…

Alberto: The ideal reader is (or appears to be) more intelligent than the writer; the ideal reader does not hold this against the writer…

Me: No, I’m sorry you’ve lost me there … I can’t quite get my head around it. Am I the reader or the writer or an owl stuffer. Help me out here Alberto I’m floundering.

Alberto: The ideal reader is someone the writer would not mind spending an evening with, over a glass of wine.

Me: Ah, now you’re talking. Make that a nice bottle of Sicilian Grillo and I’m yours Alberto …

Alberto: Ideal readers never count their books.

Me: You’re beginning to annoy me now Alberto. But whatever you do, don’t read my last post. Ed McBain 21 Agatha Christie 18 Robert Parker and Margery Allingham 17. Look, I’ve no idea why I did it. It just sort of happened.

Alberto: Literature depends, not on ideal readers, but merely on good enough readers.

Me: What! You mean to say we’ve been through all that and end with the merely good enough? I’m disappointed in you Alberto, very disappointed.

On a slightly more serious note the chapter is worth reading in its entirety so I shall now prove my ideal reader credentials by exhorting you to buy Albert Manguel’s book and of course my own. The links are below. If you’re a taxidermist Alberto doesn’t want you but I do. In fact all taxidermists are particularly welcome.

Here comes the question you knew (with sickening inevitability) would be awaiting you if you read to the end.

Who is your ideal reader?

If that makes your brain ache and you’re interested in a signed copy of Glamorama (slightly scuffed, barely read, bit dusty) I’m open to offers.


Far Away by Victoria Blake

Far Away by Victoria Blake


A Reader on Reading by Alberto Manguel

A Reader on Reading by Alberto Manguel