Friday, November 10, 2006

. . . 'I prefer reading'

'People say that life's the thing, but I prefer reading.' I've always liked that quotation from Logan Pearsall Smith, and there have been times when that was true for me. My decision to make this a blog about books and reading has made me think about the part reading has played in my life. What did one of W. H. Auden's poems say about poetry - that it makes nothing happen? That is certainly not true of literature in general. I wouldn't be too sure that poetry doesn't change things either - I bet there have been people who have been changed by ILIAD or PARADISE LOST. Literature has been a delight, a lifeline, a consolation, a drug, and it's even got me into trouble, as when my geography teacher caught me reading ANIMAL FARM under the desk when I should have attending to his lesson. More often though it has been a consolation. In the late 1970s I joined the Inland Revenue in Soilull as an Executive Officer Higher Grade (a wrong turn if ever there was one) and knew almost right away that I'd have a nervous breakdown if I didn't leave soon. In the meantime I survived by working my way through Trollope's PALLISER novels and reading Iris Murdoch's THE SACRED AND PROFANE LOVE MACHINE at every possible spare moment, on the train and at lunch-time - even sneaking off to the loo to read a page or two when things got too bad. A few years later, living in London, I had to pack a bag and travel north sit with my great-aunt as she lay dying in Wakefield Hospital. Short of something to read I picked up a classic crime-novel by Patricia Wentworth in Wakefield - cosy and undemanding enough to be a real solace. Last year David Lodge's AUTHOR, AUTHOR was my companion when I went into hospital for an unpleasant operation. It was one of the few things that could hold my attention. Reading might not save your life (though actually I'm not sure about that), but it can certainly save your sanity.

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