Once upon a time, page-turners were my go-to book choice. I was addicted to the way they would draw me so deeply into the story that I was desperate to keep reading above all else. For the length of the book, a page turner feels to me like the giddy early days of a love affair. No you hang up.
I still like a page-turner from time to time, but only on the rare occasions when I have an empty weekend, or a long journey by rail or air where I can binge read happily for hours on end. Otherwise it is slightly spoiled by everything else that gets in the way, and some of those things are spoiled in their turn by the nagging itch to get back to the book.
These days I tend to go for slower reads. I like the kind of writing where a chapter on its own can be satisfactory. Books that can be savoured over a couple of weeks and be all the better for it. Stories that accompany me when I am ready to pay full attention to them, like coming home after a day’s work or school and having a little cuddle and a chat before getting on with the rest of the evening. What’s for supper, Mum?
This week I have been reminded of another kind of reading. A couple of freshly published, slim blue books arrived for me at the bookshop (after some weeks of waiting) and I was keen to dive into both of them. One is short stories/flash fiction (I haven’t counted the words) – Vanessa Gebbie’s A SHORT HISTORY OF SYNCHRONISED BREATHING and other stories – and the other is Isabel Rogers’ debut poetry collection DON’T ASK.
Both have stopped me in my tracks.
In Vanessa’s collection, the stories are deceptive. They are humorous and startling and easy to read. You could gobble up several at a sitting if you were so inclined. And yet…and yet…although it doesn’t take long to read one of the stories, they are so perfectly rounded that to go any further immediately would seem to risk diluting the enjoyment. Instead I find myself going back over the story again for another look.
And then there is Isabel’s poetry. Every poem, every stanza, every line insisting on my full attention. It is slowing me right down in a way that I had forgotten, in a way that perhaps only poetry can. They say that every word matters even when you are writing prose, but in poetry this is amplified. Words are chosen and placed so precisely that it isn’t really about reading at all, but about listening to the poet, finding the resonance, finding our point of convergence.
Perhaps we have become used to skimming. Those of us from a generation that grew up with books, magazines and newspapers when they were still things to pause with can feel the change between that and the streaming information of this decade where reading is constant, but less absorbing. There is so much reading material now constantly at our fingertips that taking the time to read slowly has become a distinct and conscious decision.
I recommend that you step out of the flow for a while and enjoy writing that is not like infatuation, nor companionable love, but more akin to a single, perfect kiss.