When I read, I want a story to open up a space in my chest for someone to dance in. I want intensity. I want to feel, to believe. Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns both did the job.
But sometimes a book doesn’t slice my loaf – there are seven of those piled up beside my bed with an empty mug perched on top like an amateur art installation. ‘I’ll come back to you,’ I think. (I lie.)
It’s not like any of those books are rubbish, they’re just not doing it for me.
A couple of weeks ago, an editor asked me: ‘Do you read as reader or as a writer?’
And something has switched over the past year because I now read as a writer. I take notes, and analyse clues and complicated plots.
That’s turned me into even more of a quitter of books I don’t really like. I want to be inspired after all. Reading has become study. Rather than watching a magician do tricks, I’m leaning over to the side, having a good old nosey at where she’s stuffed her ace of clubs.
But I could learn something from my bedside pile. Just what is it that’s not working for me? Is the main character too much of a snooty toff to identify with? Or is it that the plot is too slow, the characters too passive?
Pressing on with a book that makes you groan for all the wrong reasons can pay dividends. I gave up with We Need to Talk About Kevin 100 pages in, but I returned to it a year later, and what a punch-to-the-gut read it was. Similarly, I toiled over the opening chapters of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but stuck with Dorrigo Evans to the bitter, beautiful end.
I had to exercise patience with both books, and boy was it worth it. I felt, I believed. Someone salsa-ed inside my ribcage.
So – oh go on then – I’m going back to my bedside pile.
What kind of reader are you – a quitter or a plough-on-until-the-ender?