These I rarely read a book in one sitting. Maybe sometimes on holiday, but otherwise it tends to be when I am not very well. Such a day came last week – just a cold, but I didn’t feel up to much. I retired to bed with Ellie Griffith’s The Outcast Dead, which I’d been saving for when I wanted a treat. There was no-one at home so I read it straight through without interruptions, including over lunch, and I enjoyed it hugely.
I used often to read like that – for hours on end. I remember as a teenager that a favourite place to read was sitting on the stairs, back against the wall, feet against the bannisters, while the sunlight through the stained glass of the front door of our between-the-wars semi sent shifting patterns moving across the hall carpet.
The great thing about a one-sitting reading is that you don’t forget who characters are or mislay bits of the plot. You get completely immersed in the book, sinking into it, leaving your ordinary life behind. Of course not everything can be read like this. Proust or Tolstoy demand a greater expenditure of time – the reading has to be spread over days, weeks, or maybe months – and that sense of living in a parallel universe is part of the experience of reading the book. But I like a crime novel to be short enough to read in one sitting – and if the writer has done their job, I should want to read it in one sitting, drawn on and on until at last the final page is reached, it’s over, and with a sigh of satisfaction, I close the book (and go online to download the next in the series).
A couple of weeks ago I drove north to Redcar to put flowers on my father’s grave, the first time since my mother died last year. My father died when I was nine and my family moved away when I was twenty-three. I’ve only been back a handful of times since and I think that is why my memories are so very vivid. They haven’t been overlaid by more recent ones. So when I drove through Saltburn I could almost see myself sitting on the sofa with Joy, my best friend, at her house watching the moon landings almost 40 years to the day, could almost hear Stevie Wonder singing ‘My Cherie Amour,’ the soundtrack for that seemingly endless summer.
I drove round by our old house in Redcar and sat looking at it for a while. It’s a cliché I know, but it really did look smaller than I remembered. The stained glass in the front door that used to throw jewelled light onto the hall floor and stairs had gone. And in thinking of that I remembered that the stairs used to be one of my favourite places for reading.
And what years those were for books, my mid teens to my early twenties. I had a summer job some years, but still there seemed to be endless days, hours and hours, for reading, and my appetite for serious literature was endless. I did an English degree so I was meant to be reading anyway – PARADISE LOST was set as the task for the first Christmas vacation – but I read a lot on top of the set books. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, WAR AND PEACE (read mostly in the bath, believe it or not), ANNA KARENINA. I didn’t read Proust, but maybe that was the wrong age. I was in my thirties when I read the first third, and was bowled over by SWANN IN LOVE. I think I appreciated it more than I would have done when I was younger. Now my life has the wrong rhythm for Proust. I wouldn’t be able to take a run at it. Maybe one day I’ll give myself a sabbatical in France and read the rest.
And talking of sabbaticals, I’m taking a little break now. But I’ll be back in mid-August, so don’t go away.