“ Readin’s borin’ ”


Our long-suffering mother was married to a man who, when he wasn’t working and camping out under the stars at Rum Jungle, spent his time sawing wood or reading Greek or Latin texts over a glass of rum. She was then forced to hire people to get work done. Over time we met the Rawleigh Man, Frank the ferocious gardener, the censorious Window Cleaner, Mrs Jacobs the House Cleaner, Mr Nathan the philosophical housepainter,  and others I have forgotten. They were all united in their low opinion of our mother’s inability to discipline her children. We would arrive home from school to find one of these beings seated at the kitchen table over a cup of tea, discoursing on their opinions and telling her what they would do if they were her.

As we charged in, pushing and jostling, grabbing slices of rainbow cake off the table, they would turn an angry gaze towards us and say something like,

‘Why don’t you help your poor mother?’

We knew what they didn’t, that when they were gone our mother would make fun of them. The way they spoke, their prejudices, their ignorance…she was a good mimic. The Window Cleaner was particularly exercised about the piles of books which lay on every surface. Such a waste of time, lying about reading. Our mother was delighted to tell us his final words on the matter, ‘Readin’s borin’!’

Having recently heard of an author who, when he told the audience at a Writer’s Festival that he had that year read 137 books, was howled down as a lying braggart, I decided to see how hard it would be to read 137 books in a year. It didn’t sound that many to me. Then I looked on Google and found that the average American is doing really well to read five books a year, and many only read one book a year (including the current president, one assumes.) So for the month of January I decided to read thirty books. (If I kept that up for the whole year I would have read 360 books, but that did seem excessive.)

I could divide my reading record in many ways: books by men or women, year of publication, books on various topics, books written in English or translation, but ultimately I decided to list names, authors, first language of text and then give my top ten.

I began in the lazy days of the new year: hot weather, quiet, time to read all day. But no time to watch tennis, or movies or to have conversations. I was a one-woman reading machine. I did feel a little strange at first but I soon became accustomed to living in a world inside my head.

I began with books about the Second World War, the Holocaust, prison camps:

Les Parisiennes …Anne Sebba… English

All that I Am…Anna Funder… English

The Search Warrant…Patrick Modiano…French

The Summer Before the Dark…Volker Weiderman…German

Then some random reads:

The Old Master…Thomas Bernhard…German

My Name is Lucy Barton…Elizabeth Strout…English

Pereira Maintains…Antonio Tabucchi…Italian

A Field Guide to Reality… Joanna Kavenna…English

The Nakano Thrift Shop…Hiroko Kawakami…Japanese

The Movie Goer…Walker Percy…English

A Pillow Book…Suzanne Buffam…English

Where are You Dying Tonight? …Michel Deon…French

The Ice Museum…Johanna Kavenna…English

The Blue Fox…Sjon…Icelandic

The Boat in the Evening…Tarjei Vesas…Norwegian

Time Ages in a Hurry…Antonio Tabucchi…Italian

To Siberia…Per Petterson…Norwegian

Nine Lives… Dan Baum…English

Professor Anderson’s Night…Dag Solstad…Norwegian

Diary of a Short Sighted Adolescent…Mircea Eliade…Rumanian

Indian Nocturne…Antonio Tabucchi…Italian

Experience…Martin Amis…English

The Biographer’s Tale…A S Byatt…English

From the Mouth of the Whale…Sjon…Icelandic

The Secret Sharer and The Heart of Darkness…Joseph Conrad…English

The Back Room… Carmen Martin Gaite…Spanish

Heaven and Hell…Jon Kalman Stefansson…Icelandic

A Summer of Drowning…John Burnside…English

Black Rock White City…A S Patric…English

The Haiku Apprentice…Abigail Freidman…English

By my reckoning that makes…

14 books written in English

3 in Norwegian

3 in Icelandic

3 in Italian

2 in French

2 in German

1 in Rumanian

1 in Spanish

1 in Japanese

I am now well on course to read 1000 books over the next ten years.

What were my favourites? Here are my top ten:

The Mouth of the Whale

The Blue Fox

Heaven and Hell

Black Rock White City

My Name is Lucy Barton

The Boat in the Evening

To Siberia

Pereira Maintains

All That I Am

Indian Nocturne

I have journeyed from Vichy France to the New Orleans of Hurricane Katrina. I have seen the cranes dancing on a lake in Norway and been fishing in the freezing waters off the coast of Iceland. My reading has given me a feast for my imagination.

Certainly not borin’.


22 thoughts on ““ Readin’s borin’ ”

  1. I think in these days of so much screen time we process information in a different way. Those who from an early age are used to bright visuals and short grabs of info are going to be challenged by a page of print.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Makes me think of a couple I once knew who were told to have sex every night for three months( aiming to conceive). After a couple of weeks they gave it away!. Hope the Reading Challenge did not put you off reading.


    1. I think I’ll try for 8 books a month for the rest of the year. I will take on some of those 500+ pages volumes on my shelves. And I’ll definitely be reading everything I can by Jon Kalmar Johanssen!


  3. I second Guy’s statement that some people find it difficult to process or get on with the written word, but for them that should be no excuse to denigrate reading — most readers wouldn’t have a downer on gardening or window-cleaning or similar, I hope!

    At any rate, an impressive rate of consumption, Gert, as much in quality and range as much as quantity. Other bloggers and friends I know have a similar capacity to consume and absorb and appreciate much. I fear I’m only at the lower end of the middle ranking continuum, partly due to my desire to take notes and to review.

    And you remind me I was going that I was going to extend my range into the non-Western literary canon …


    1. But you may observe I haven’t reviewed any of the books I read. If I did reviews of the quality and depth of yours I wouldn’ have got far. Still I am pleased I didn’t read any bad writing and that much of what I read was intensely moving and superbly written.


      1. They all look worthy — and I don’t mean that in any derogatory sense — titles, some of which I’d like to get round to reading. I think you’re too kind about the apparent quality of my reviews (I tend to worry away at the corpus like a terrier, probably mangling it to a corpse), especially when I read your passing remarks-not-reviews about literature you’ve recently been inpired by.


  4. Might I ask – who prepares the meals and who does the dishes? Squirrelled away reading is a great escape. How do you keep all those books catalogued in your mind?


    1. Years of practice, Leslie, and I do maintain cooking and housework services. The Silent Companion works long hours at a quite stressful job so I need to keep him fed. I also did three weekend singing workshops during this time among other things.

      Liked by 1 person

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