Right now I’m reading three books: New and Selected Poems Volume Two by Mary Oliver; Diary of a Dead Man On Leave, a novel by David Downing; and Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune by Tiffany Watt Smith. I start each morning with two or three of the poems, read a chapter of the non-fiction in the afternoon, then nod off over the novel at end of day.
That poetry / non-fiction / fiction balance is not one I achieve often, much as I’d like to. Fiction gets the lion’s share of my reading time – I’m looking forward to Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me – and genre fiction a good part of that. Scandinavian and Icelandic murder mysteries – the darker the better – plus well-researched historical fiction from the likes of C.J. Sansom, Philip Kerr and Hilary Mantell are particular treats.
“If I ate or drank the way I read, I’d likely be dead. I simply cannot be without a book on the go. So I read the way a chain-smoker smokes.”
Form and genre aside, however, when it comes to reading – reading anything – I am an addict. If I ate or drank the way I read, I’d likely be dead. I simply cannot be without a book on the go. So I read the way a chain-smoker smokes. When I finish a book in bed, no matter how late it is, I can’t turn off my light and go to sleep until I’ve chosen a new one from the crowded shelf of my night table. Then I have to read at least a page or two – enough to justify inserting a fresh bookmark.
Though I have nothing against e-books or electronics in general, I am grateful for the continued existence of the physical book and its sidekick, the paper bookmark. I keep a collection of bookmarks in a wicker basket on the same shelf that houses my books-in-waiting. I have bookmarks advertising independent book stores – some that closed decades ago and some still thriving. I have bookmarks with author photographs and pithy quotes (Edith Sitwell: “I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty … But I am too busy thinking about myself.”) I have bookmarks from art galleries, museums and churches; bookmarks commemorating literary events, weddings and funerals; bookmarks laminated to preserve dried flowers; even a couple of clumsy homemade efforts that I won’t describe. I do not possess anything sporting inspirational messages, sparkles, sequins, tassels, holograms or depictions of unicorns. And yes, though I don’t make a fetish of it, I do try to match bookmark to book. At least, I go for a degree of compatibility – dark with dark, whimsical with whimsical.
“But it all comes down to the heft in the hand of the single book. The delicate turning of each page.”
Physical books, of course, take up physical space. My apartment is lined with shelves: the biography shelf; the poetry shelf; the shelf for anthologies; my small library of raven and crow books (I have a thing about ravens and crows); and a shelf I had custom-made to fit a certain nook and house my books on religion and spirituality. Then there are the big main shelves for all the fiction – starting in the living/dining room with Caroline Adderson’s Bad Imaginings and snaking around to end up in the bedroom with Emile Zola’s Nana.
My book shelves serve as more than just storage, however. When I have guests, they can spur conversation – Oh, I see that you’ve read… They have aesthetic value, too. Looked at abstractly, the spines with their varying colours, thicknesses and heights are like rhythmic music for the eye.
But it all comes down to the heft in the hand of the single book. The delicate turning of each page. The sight of the unread portion getting thinner. And the almost guilty anticipation of the next good read.
K.D. Miller has published short stories, essays and a novel. Her recent collection of stories, Late Breaking, was inspired by the paintings of Alex Colville.