Mourning the reader I might have been

For as long as I understood what reading was, I read. I loved books – I was not an outdoor kid, not one bit, but why would I be when I had so many books? I was on first-name terms with the local librarians, and I loved nothing better after school than going to the library, sitting in one of the big armchairs and reading. Yet, despite my endless consumption of books, I reflect now that I may not have gotten the most out of reading. There are some ways I wish my reading experience could have been different, so here’s an elegy of sorts to the reader I might have been in a different life.

I read a lot as a kid, but I don’t know if I read particularly widely. I devoured crime fiction – I’d read every Agatha Christie by the time I was 13 – but I was never that adventurous. Once I watched and enjoyed Lewis on TV, and then caught up on Morse, I read all the Colin Dexter stories – ditto with Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. I learned that there were spinoff novels for shows like Diagnosis: Murder, Monk and Psych, and I found and read all of those.

This was my strategy – I’d exhaust something that I knew I would like, and so I didn’t branch out for fear of wasting my time on something I didn’t enjoy but felt compulsively obligated to finish anyway. There used to be a giant Waterstones near the Ricoh Arena – we used to go there and look around for hours, yet I’d never stray from familiar names, and I appreciate now what a wasted opportunity that time was to discover new authors.

There’s a world of writers that I could have enjoyed, but just refused to.

My first regret is all the suggestions that came my way, the books that wound up in a ‘to read’ pile that I knew I’d never look at. There’s a world of writers that I could have enjoyed, but just refused to. Even now, if I’m searching for a quick read, I’ll opt for a book I know, rather than trying something new. That’s not to say that I haven’t learned a lesson – I do read new things, and I’ve discovered that being underwhelmed by them is a valid and worthwhile response (read my reviews of Lucy Foley’s interesting crime novels to get a sense of that)! I do wish, though, I’d learned it while I still had the time to devour books.

And that’s the other thing that stops me now – university life, and the lack of time available to get through books properly, even for someone who reads as fast as I do. When I lived on campus, I read a little before bed each night, but I’ve lost the habit now, and that’s a shame. I love reading, but it’s hard to find the time to sit and do it – when I was a kid with little to do, I could happily sit there for a few hours and get through a novel (and often did). But I let reading slide a bit, even though I could easily still fit in it, and so the habit slipped. I wish I’d had the discipline then that I do now, and I guarantee I’d be getting through far more books.

 We had these books at home when I was little, though – fancy copies, sitting on a shelf and reduced to the status of ornaments.

It would be the perfect chance to start a reading habit that the young me stubbornly refused, and now the older me wants to pick up – reading the classics. Now, the only real opportunity I have to sit down and read classic books is when I’m travelling – a few hours on the train or on a plane is a wonderful excuse to knuckle down with an iconic piece of literature. I’ve recently experienced Pride and Prejudice and Treasure Island this way, and I loved them both (I certainly never fancied myself as an Austen fan, I can tell you that!). We had these books at home when I was little, though – fancy copies, sitting on a shelf and reduced to the status of ornaments. When I was blitzing books, I could have read them – young me could have been so widely read.

There are some things I’m thankful for, however. I missed the smartphone age, and even the internet wasn’t that prevalent when I was a kid (we had dial-up for years), so I missed many of the distractions people have today – reading was a wonderful escape and, with my trusty library card, a free one. I’m thankful that I never lost the love of reading, and that my age and experience have enabled me to reflect and enjoy new and different books in new and different ways. And I’m very glad to look at the pile of books on my work desk and my bedside table, and still feel that surge of excitement when I go to pick one up. There are many ways I wish my reading experience was different, yes, but that experience has also made me the reader I am today, and that’s a wonderful thing.


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