I can’t imagine being without books to read, but, at times, I am a reluctant reader. As I child, I would often spend ages choosing library books. They had to be just right. Even now, when I have books to read at home, I will “tiptoe” around them, choosing the one I will read first. If there’s a deadline for reading a book, such as for book group, there is less choice but often considerable reluctance when I know the content is not going to be easy. My experience of reading is that it is not always easy no matter how avid a reader you are – unless all you read is romantic fiction, perhaps. I can even understand that impulse, because life is hard enough without reading something which confirms what you knew subconsciously: that reality is hard to take. Sometimes what we need is a happy ending.
I have a technique for reading a book quickly. I divide the book into the number of pages and complete one section at a time. I keep up the pace of the reading. If it is becoming a chore, I may skim read some parts.
If a book becomes not just tedious but distasteful to me in some way, I will abandon it, having defied the unwritten law of completing something I’ve begun. I nearly got to the end of an Anthony Marra book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, when I saw it was not going to end well and I could do without knowing how. I have abandoned two books this year: The Orchestra of Minorities and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
A book I did persist with last week – albeit reluctantly – was American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I had already imagined many times what it must be like for the people in the “caravans” moving from Central America and Mexico to the United States at a time when Trump was building his wall and separating children from their parents. I also heard the news of the drug cartels killing people, such as a busload of trainee teachers. American Dirt relates the experiences of the people who have no choice but to put themselves in incredible danger as they try to escape violence, civil unrest and consequent poverty. The book was an agonising mix of being unputdownable and hard to pick up. In this time of heightened anxiety, it was a particular challenge. My heart raced and I found it hard to sleep after reading as I raged against the injustice in the world. Cummins researched her subject for four years. She cleverly appeals to her audience by making her main character a middle class woman who owns a bookshop in Acapulco – not the picture we have in our heads of a Mexican migrant or of a place (tourist hot-spot, cocktails on the beach) you would flee. The title is a clever play on words. The migrants need to reach a place of safety, but politicians, vigilantes – and often you and me – denigrate them or dismiss them. Remember our own dawn raids. I don’t regret reading this book.
So reading is not always easy, even in the apparent safety of my “bubble”, but it enriches my perception of humanity and the confronting world we have made and, sometimes, offers a way forward.