I used to have a diet of new releases. I’d follow the Booker shortlist, section myself in the front third of a bookshop, note down reviews. It all seemed too hard to do it any other way. How could you begin to choose something from the closely packed shelves? So many writers. I didn’t need a degree in maths to tell me that the probability of picking something I’d love was low.
And then I had children. The contradictions of living with babies include both slowing you down and speeding things up. In the weirdest way, the day’s allocation of minutes and hours remained the same but everything resized. Leaving the house could take up to an hour. Clothes shopping for me took five minutes.
Reading became a refuge and the greatest pleasure; nobody had told me it was the perfect complement to childrearing. One demands, constantly. The other gives, with no conditions. It provides adult company and imparts lessons in the human condition when you most need them.
Storytime at the local library brought a revelation. Papery dry, cool, unhurried. Free. I could fill a bag with novels by random authors, take them home and read over three weeks. Then take them back and get more. Who first thought of this? Extraordinary! No longer relentlessly contemporary, my reading expanded, in all directions.
But my memory was crammed with the minutiae of daily routines and I could forget, within minutes of closing it, a book’s name. I began to keep a list. No dates or comments (a passing judgement is of no interest to me). Just titles and authors.
Years later, it’s given me a feast of data. I know the authors to hunt down for more of their work. And I am always ready with referrals of those I’ve loved.
This is the beginning of a series I’m writing to recommend some literary gems, exploring a few books at a time through themes. In the vast crush of information today, what is the longevity of a novel? There are so many that deserve to be remembered. If I can help other readers find some new ‘old’ books, I’ll be repaying some of my debt to writers. Bring these ideas to your book clubs. Indulge. You’ll be rewarded.