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.
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.