I have no book, and I must read

I left my book at work Tuesday night. I hadn’t finished it. It was just a terrible error that left me bookless Wednesday morning.

Ok, to most people this wouldn’t sound like much of a big deal. Anyone who actually reads this blog though probably understands the horror of being bookless. I mean, not totally bookless because I have shelves full of them at home, but without the book I was in the middle of reading.

I’ll come back in a moment to how I dealt with what I think anyone would agree was a very serious situation. It made me think though about other times I’ve been left bookless.

Usually it happens if I finish a book faster than I expected. I’ve gone in to work. I’ve read on the tube and suddenly I’ve finished or I’ve discovered there’s not nearly as much left to go as for some reason I thought. Normally I guard against that. If I’m about two thirds or more of the way through a book I carry a spare.

Having a smartphone helps. I have some books on my kindle app. It’s not really how I like to read though and I tend not to want to read anything really good on a mobile phone screen.

Otherwise though, if I’ve nothing on the phone (or the battery’s low) and I’ve no spare then I’m reduced to reading free newspapers left on a seat, adverts, or worst of all nothing. None of those are good outcomes.

It’s not that I have no other interests. I’m not even shy. Still, I’m a reader and if you are a reader if you’ve time free and you’re not doing something else then odds are you want to use that time to read. If you can’t, well, it’s peculiarly frustrating.

Thankfully this time I did have something suitable on my phone. I’ve been slowly reading through the kindle version of the Penguin Classics edition of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. It’s an 18th Century Chinese collection of short stories (many very short) and it’s an odd mix of folklore, fables, Ripleys’ believe-it-or-not style material, ghost stories and supernatural romance.

Strange Tales is over 600 pages long and it works best if read a little at a time. I imagine it’ll take me another year or so before I finish it all given how I pace the stories out (which I absolutely recommend to anyone else thinking of reading it).

That got me through Wednesday morning, but Wednesday I was away from my office all day, so I still couldn’t get to my book. This morning, Thursday, I cracked. I’m now reading Ellis Peter’s first Cadfael mystery. It’s a very fast read, so I’m hopeful I can finish it quickly and get back to my original book.

So there you go. One moment of distraction and the result is Chinese ghost stories and a medieval murder mystery. Not ideal, but it could have been much worse. If you want real horror, I once found myself on a two week skiing holiday with a busted knee, ten days stretching before me sitting in a hotel room, and only enough books for two of those days because I’d been expecting to be out on the slopes, in bars or asleep until it was time for the flight back. Dark times.



Filed under Personal posts

25 responses to “I have no book, and I must read

  1. LaurencePritchard

    Max, I sympathise, but I also had some luck – staying at a friend’s a while back i realised i’d lost my copy of Delillo’s The Names. I borrowed Hangover Square and loved it.

    I got my bag stolen in Brazil years back and my copy of The Moor’s Last Sigh was in it – signed, although a paperback. I’d just finished it, and i’d put it now as my favourite Rushdie, an author I’ve rather gone off recently.

  2. Ouch! Happily I can’t remember the last time I found myself lacking the book of the moment. My worst fear is finding myself marooned in a children’s soft play area, bookless, for the mandatory two hours of piped music, primary colours and shrieking…

  3. The horror. I once ran out of books after misjudging matters and ended up reading TWO Piers Morgan tattle tomes. TWO. It’s enough to prompt Kindle investment. Almost. It was like needing to eat to survive and starting on clumps of yanked hair. It will never be allowed to happen again.

  4. leroyhunter

    The addict’s worst nightmare….

    I’m exactly the same Max, if I have less then say 80 pages to go in a book then I carry a spare. It’s why I like to have a stock of slim numbers on hand to tide me over when a mid-day change of book seems likely.

    To the non- or casual-reader I realise this all probably seems very close to mania. Oh well.

  5. I live five minutes walk from work so wouldn’t be that bad for me but never chance to read at work ,but I use my i phone on bus and when waiting on odd occasions ,all the best stu

  6. From one addict to another, I understand. I don’t leave home without my kindle. I’ve got several 100 books on that just in case…

  7. Another message from another addict. You have all my compassion.

    I always carry a book with me, even if it’s most likely I won’t have the opportunity to read. I get anxious if I don’t have a book.
    Like Guy, I never go to work without my kindle.
    Since the blog, I also carry a paper notebook for extreme review writing and I always have a backlog of book reviews I can read on my smartphone.

    We’re all maniac. Good news: we don’t hurt anybody. But it requires really patient spouses.

  8. As Guy says, the Kindle is such a saviour in these circumstances, unless of course one leaves the Kindle at work! I left my Kindle at a B&B last year. Oh the horror (though of course I did have paper books at home where I went straight from the B&B.). Still it was a lesson to me …

    And, you’re reading a 600 page book on the phone? I really can’t comprehend reading a book on a tiny phone screen but then I don’t have a smart phone and so haven’t really tried it.

  9. Hangover Square is a definite find. How do you find Delillo?

    Sarah, I think if I found myself in an area like that for two hours whoever discovered me would find me broken and weeping.

    Lee, that’s exactly the sort of desperation I mean when I refer to stuff like free newspapers and adverts (both probably better than Piers Morgan, but when that’s all you have…).

    Leroy/Guy/Emma. I do sometimes carry one of those little pocket books like the Penguin mini classics around, and if I’m travelling I always now take my kindle. I used to pack far more books than I needed in case of injury, but the kindle makes that unnecessary. And yes, I also get a bit anxious without a book to hand.

    Stu, I wouldn’t want to live that close I think. I enjoy reading on the commute, and it’s often the only chance in the day I get.

    WG, 600 pages yes, but each individual story is very short – some only a page long. That’s what makes it so suitable. You read a short story taking two or three pages and on a mobile that’s very manageable. If it were a 600 page novel I wouldn’t dream of trying to read it that way.

  10. That makes more sense … but still, aren’t you forever turning/flipping pages with a screen that small?

  11. I don’t think I’d like to live that close to work either. The drive home is detox time.

  12. By perhaps rather cruel irony the final thirty pages of the Cadfael novel turned out to be an excerpt from the next novel in the series, included as a sort of advert.

    That meant that when I got on the tube home wondering how the story would be spun out for another forty pages it turned out I only had ten to go, and then what was effectively a lengthy advert. It’s a quick read. I’d finished that ten pages before I was a fraction of the journey home.

    I’ve also somehow managed to lose the Gordon Burn. It’ll turn up again, but it looks like this just isn’t a good month for reading. At least Troubles excelled.

  13. Does your bad luck cross the Channel?
    I’m an hour early to a meeting, fully prepared and I left my kindle, my paperback and my notebook in the office…*sigh*

  14. My worst bookless moment (pre Kindle) was when a day procedure in hospital turned into an overnight stay. I’d finished the book I’d taken to read pre-op and I knew I was never going to get to sleep anyway. O how the dread of the long bookless hours stretched ahead! But then The Spouse proved his worth and was back within an hour with a bag full of books, just in case…
    (Mind you, those bossy nurses made me turn the light off. I outsmarted them by swivelling around on my immobile leg and reading upside-down in the bed by the light from the corridor.)

  15. Oh dear, sorry Emma.

    And oh dear again. That is a rather unfortunate story Lisa, and the nurses were not helpful. My wife mostly reads French and Italian literary fiction (in the original, she’s better at languages than I am) and has no desire to read light fiction particularly. Her reading time is limited so when she can read she prefers the highest quality literary fiction.

    Sadly when last in hospital (for something pretty minor) the effects of the painkillers were such that she couldn’t focus on her usual sort of book, and so she had to make do with Harry Potter. She now recommends them for children or adults under the effects of anaesthesia.

  16. Max, when ill I recommend audio books. (Some French actors record books and it’s fantastic. That’s for your wife.) It’s easier to listen than to read when you have a fever or when you’re dimished by painkillers.

  17. Harry Potter? *groan* Your wife is indeed a discerning reader!
    (Tho’ tis true that I can’t remember what I read…only the panic when I thought I couldn’t.)

  18. When I was seriously ill for a period of a few weeks some years back I couldn’t read at all. I watched 24, which is a dire show, but was all I could cope with.

    That’s the thing with being ill. You have free time, but not the mental energy to use it to any good effect. I can fall back on pulp crime or sf for those times, but Emma normally only reads the seriously good stuff so she doesn’t have that option.

    If I’m ill again, which I probably will be at some point, I’ll just read Edgar Rice Burrough’s Martian novels or something like that. It would be nice to reach for the Nabokov, but if one’s attention is impaired it just won’t fly.

  19. marco

    Your comment about Italian Literary Fiction piqued my curiosity.
    Could you make a list of the last 10 Italian books your wife has read?

  20. Mary Gilbert

    On holiday in Norway backpacking with my sister in the 70’s we ran out of books to read. We found an English copy of Bohwani Junction in a bookshop in Stavanger. A mighty struggle ensued. If one of us put the book down for a second to go to the loo or even to pick up a hairbrush then the other one would snatch it and thus in tandem we managed to get through what was a cracking read in record time.

  21. LaurencePritchard

    Max, I’d say The Names was arguably Dellilo’s best, but then I’m uneasy using words like ‘best’ when it comes to such things; perhaps it would be White Noise on another day.

    I also got The Slaves of Solitude, which I haven’t started yet.

  22. leroyhunter

    That’s interesting Laurence. I’ve read a few by DeLillo but not that one. My next will be Players (that’s the one I have on the shelf).

  23. Pingback: My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: September 15, 2011 « Hungry Like the Woolf

  24. I have a shelf in the spare room containing a complete set of Ellis Peters Cadfael series. I had a spell of reading them in the late 1980s I think. They really are very good, and I would rate A Morbid Taste for Bones as the best. I must get round to trying them again as no doubt I’ve forgotten the stories by now. They used to bring a sense of calm into what was then a fairly hectic world. I’ll be very interested to read your review.

  25. Hi Tom,

    Calm is an excellent word to use. I found A Morbid Taste of Bones tremendously calming. I’ll have to think about why. I did definitely enjoy it. It’s no surprise it sparked a little micro-genre of other medieval detective novels in imitation.

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