Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Battle of the Books

The Battle of the Books

As being an attendant at the WYP - which over the past few weeks with the four shows + a day seems to have morphed into a full time job - tends to involve periods of downtime during shifts. That's the sit around, talk about how rock and roll I am, feel at least eighty years old time. And since I really can't justify such blatant wastage I've taken to having a WYP book for each shift. I should probably clarify this in that the WYP book isn't anything about the WYP, or gained from there [I only steal their copy of The Stage when I'm on cloakroom], but is one of the many books I've gained in the past six months or so but haven't gotten round to reading because I've been too preoccupied with a copy of Heat. So far I've gotten through Notes From A Small Island, several of the Potter books when I was going through the re-read, a Christmas present about writing film scripts and Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. So I wasn't too surprised when one of the attendants commented with some surprise: "You read like I eat chocolate". I felt it somewhat churlish to point out that I am more than adept at eating chocolate at the rate that I read. Which, given the speed I read at, is saying something. So instead I agreed. Because the basis is undoubtedly correct.

It wasn't until I hit the middle years of high school that I realised that my reading capacity is not generally thought normal. As a rule of thumb we'd read as a class, each taking the turn to read a couple of pages out loud, ensuring that we all worked together. Not one to be bothered by external noise [it's a talent born out of necessity given that I have three siblings] I always, always, read ahead. Which usually meant that I'd finish the book about three weeks before the class, loop back to join in and then still finish my re-read before them. Which did make for some comedy moments when it came to my turn to read aloud and I couldn't find the bit the rest of the class were on. On occassion, when I was gripped by a particular book, I'd end up finishing it at home - I think this was the reason I ended up reading the ending of 'Goodnight Mr Tom' at least four times. Which was good as I'd gotten my crying out of the way outside of the classroom.

And the habit, fostered undoubtedly by the reading lists flung at us every term during my degree [my high point being reading three books a day from the 20th century reading list for a week and a half], has continued. I read quickly. I want to know what happens. Even when I've read the book before, I want to know how things are going to turn out. Because, and this may seem odd and kind of stupid given the pre-destined nature of works printed on a page, there's always that little part of me for whom the ending is a surprise. Even when I re-read Gatsby - which I could probably quote to you - I get that feeling of suspense towards the end. The possibility. I'm sucked into the world on the page and what happens outside of that, what happened before doesn't matter. This time might be different. That feeling's probably the reason I love theatre so much - every time literally is different.

But back to the books. And to Hornby's in particular. I'm a big Hornby fan and I think, possibly because he's so funny, he's massively underrated. He never takes the soft option in his novels and 'Long Way Down' is no different. If you don't know the story, it starts with four people, individually about the commit suicide, meeting on New Year's Eve. Which doesn't sound very funny - and at odd moments it profoundly isn't - but Hornby makes you laugh. And think. And I rather love him for that. Ever since I read Fever Pitch [the world of the football fanatic] I've felt something of a connection. Minor-popstar stalkers and football fans have a lot in common. It's just that the former group don't spend as much on t-shirts as the latter. In A Long Way Down, it almost felt that Hornby had drilled into my head for a moment:

"But we used to have these message boards up on our website, and I'd read them every now and again, and I could tell that people felt the same way we did...I mean everyone has fans who love what they do, otherwise they wouldn't be fans, right? But I could tell from reading the other boards that our guys walked out of our shows feeling something special. We could feel it, and they could feel it. It's just that there weren't enough of them, I guess."

I choked on my caramel flavoured quality street when I read that. And when I'd finished spluttering and assured everyone that I didn't need an ambulance, I realised that the book had broken my heart a little. And I knew that if the character concerned jumped I would be writing an even longer and sterner letter to Hornby than the one which JK Rowling will receive if she doesn't redeem Snape.

I finished the book the next day and I'm not going to say whether I'm having to write the letter or not because that would spoil the central premise of the novel. And I'm not a spoiler. But I think it shows why, as much as an internet freak as I am, there should be more books than computers going into public libraries. Even bloggers need to read something they can scrawl their name in the front and hold in their hands.


Nik said...

It's all very well and good but why is the title of this entry in a different colour? It is confusing me :(

Corinne said...

Erm, I pressed the wrong button in blogger...