Admit it. Go on. You haven't really read it, have you?
You know what I'm talking about. Oh, you know enough about it to just about hold a conversation – but you haven't read it.
What do I mean? I mean that book. I mean that book on that list of classics, or all those other books you bought but still sit on your bookshelf, ten, fifteen, twenty years later. We all do it. It's on my list, I'd say. I'll read it next, I’d tell myself. Then I didn't. I read something else, something zeitgeist, something familiar, something easier. Or, shhhhh, I didn't read anything…
So, when we started Foe, we looked at our bookshelves. No excuses. Time to expand the parameters and get on with it. Yeah, I've read a lot of the books – the Italo Calvino's, the Umberto Eco's, the John Berger's, the John Fowles' – but wait! This shelf, this shelf has my unreads, my laters, my next times, or even better, a large proportion of my partners’ books (not relegated, honestly). Yeah, we share similar tastes, but we also don’t share similar tastes. So I picked some from each. I'd never read The Catcher in the Rye. I know! Crazy! I'd never read 1984, Midnight's Children or Breakfast at Tiffany's either.
I have now.
Okay, not Midnight's Children, but no one's read it all the way through. No one. It's true. They may say they have but…
For me it was a chance to be random. I didn't think too hard. I just grabbed the first one I saw – like highbrow Russian roulette. There isn't that much in the way of jeopardy, I know that, but it's less to do with what I feel like reading and more the thrill of the almost unknown. It's quite liberating actually. In an era of skip-shuffle-swipe, making myself read the unread has relieved much of the aesthetic, thematic or intellectual decision-making.
You could argue, in my case, that I've already made intellectual decisions just by buying those novels (followed by the very un-intellectual decision to not get round to reading them), but now it's become a broader landscape for me to explore. Although following Breakfast at Tiffany's with A Moveable Feast then The Catcher in the Rye and 1984 does now seem linked…
What I like most is that decision-making. It’s not so much about my taste now. I’m not sticking to what I know I like and just repeating (how many Andy McNab or EL James novels can you read? How many are there?). The only way to expand, to enrich your taste, is to do something different, something against what you know you like.
Never read Don DeLillo? Get on with it. Never read Zadie Smith? Just do it! Imagine what it would be like if all you had ever read was Peter and Jane…? By reading something different, and not your taste, you are making your brain work. It’s like exercise. A playful, sweatless jog versus a potentially vomit inducing high intensity workout. Flabby and unfit or (eventually) full of energy and sharp? That’s how this reading roulette is working for me.
So what’s next on the reading roulette list? Generation X? The Road? Valley of the Dolls? One Hundred Years of Solitude?