The Pleasures of Reading

Yes, today Ronnie’s talking about books. Just in case you’ve arrived here thinking it’s a post about a well known English town not too far from London.

I love a good book. Settling down into someone’s knowledge, opinions or imagination. Not knowing what you’re in for, but knowing it will be good.

Yes but how do you know it will be good? Well, I think it’s all down to the reader’s book-finding skills.

I do most of my book-finding around where we live. In charity shops or the public library. Sometimes I’ll buy brand new books in town, from our long treasured feminist co-op, News From Nowhere. But most of my mooching is done locally.

Today, the books.

First, the charity shops. There are two Oxfams within walking distance of where we live. Both good for finding books in. Good, because you’re relying on the serendipity of other people’s tastes here. If it’s in here, someone’s liked it enough to buy it. ‘Yes, but not liked it enough to keep it’ I can hear you saying. Doesn’t bother me. I don’t keep books myself. So I treat the Oxfams like libraries. Soon as I’ve read the books, unless they’re being recommended to Sarah, they go into the ‘Oxfam’ cupboard in our hall (actually the meter cupboard) and get returned to from where they came every few weeks.

But I’d recently farmed both Oxfams, so pretty well know what’s in them for now. Therefore today it was the turn of Allerton Road public library.

Because of the lunatic ‘austerity measures’ that our Government foolishly believes will fix the mess the bankers have made of our economy, our libraries have been under attack lately.

Apparently closing libraries for whole days and restricting their hours on days when they are open, will do more to fix the economy than doing anything serious about banks, bonuses, international corporations and the obscenely rich in general. But what would I know?

Well I do know I love and treasure the local library very deeply. So, checking it’s new opening hours, and finding that this afternoon I was in luck, off I set.

But how do you pick from a whole library? Well don’t even try and see the whole place, I say. Go with your instincts and pick one section. It could be a Biography day, a History day, a Save the World day. You won’t know until you get there.

So having gone for your section, should you judge books by their covers. I don’t particularly, but I do judge them by how they feel. I love a lot of American paperbacks for their gentle sort of floppiness, compared to our more rigid English ones for example. (In fact it’s this feeling we went for on Sarah’s book.) I also like them to be attractively laid out. Designed like someone cared about them. I hate it, for example, when a book has tiny margins, almost screams out ‘Printed straight from Microsoft Word, not a proper book’. Avoid.

You do have to read what the book says on its cover, though. To know if you might be interested in what it’s about. If you are, then go straight for the first paragraph. So you’re reading something the author has definitely written. This is the core test of book-finding. If you want to keep reading, then you’re probably onto something.

The final thing I then generally do, particularly if it looks like I’ve found several books, is imagine how I’d feel if I didn’t take each of them home. If any of the answers are ‘Not much bothered’ then those ones goes back on the shelf.

Today, the marmalade.

But all this is theory, just talk. How did it go at the book-finding front-line today?

Well, I had about six books to take back, only two of them fully read. A poor average, but one of the read ones was ‘Intrusion’ by Ken Macleod. A book so good I’ve written a blog post about it.

So, him being called ‘Macleod’, I decided to go with my instincts today, and see if I could find some more good novels by restricting my search to the novels ‘M to P’ bookcase in the library where I’d found him.

Well, I didn’t find any more by Ken. But I did go through all the above tests and leave the library with three novels. And I’ll tell you why each in particular got through.

‘Solace’ by Belinda McKeon – passed all the above, and is also written by someone Irish. And I’m predisposed, by reasons of simple DNA to like books by Irish people.

‘The Roundabout Man’ by Clare Morrall. About someone living on the fringes of society. And I’ve loved books by her before. Paricularly ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour‘.

‘Life: An Exploded Diagram’ by Mal Peet. It’s historical and political and about nuclear power. It’s set in Norfolk and I’ve never read a book I didn’t like set in Norfolk. And the inside cover of the front and the back of the book is an old OS map of where it takes place. brilliant, it’s got a sense of place!

So I brought the books home to a peacefully working house. This morning Sarah and I had pretty well completed preparations for a big piece of work we’re doing next week for HCT. And so peace had broken out. While I’d been at the library Sarah had been making marmalade. So I made myself some tea in the warm and bubbling kitchen and brought my new books out here to the yard for a good look.

And while drinking two cups of green tea, as the evening gathered, I read the first chapters of each of the books. They all seem good.

There is one more test for them to get through though. And that’s the ‘Fifty page rule’. If I get up to page fifty of any of these and I’m not engrossed, I’ll read no further. Life would be too short for that.

So now the light is fading out here in the yard as I finish typing this. I’m off inside for the rest of the evening now and, later, I will read. And I’ll be sure to let you know if all of today’s book finding has produced any gems worthy of their own posts.

3 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Reading

  1. Jan Baird

    Thank you so much for sharing with us your love of books and some of your “good reads.” I look forward to your posts on subjects near and dear to my heart: hiking, traveling, and reading. Write on! xx

    Reply
  2. Ronnie Hughes Post author

    By the way, this is how the above books fared once I sat down to read them:
    ‘Solace’ failed on the ‘Fifty page rule’ – it just didn’t engage me.
    ‘The Roundabout Man’ is a complete delight, and is highly recommended.
    ‘Life: An Exploded Diagram is well written and kept me reading to the end. So it was a good entertainment, but not great.

    Reply

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