I really love books and I dedicate all the time I can to them. For me, reading is a dynamic, immersive activity. I put time aside to read. I make a conscious decision to light the fire, make a pot of tea and ignore the ‘phone or the ping of the email inbox. I make dates with myself at coffee shops or on park benches - an hour or so just for me and a book when I don’t want to be interrupted, distracted or disturbed.
Unfortunately, this is something others have sometimes failed to grasp.
‘If you’re not busy,’ my ex-husband used to say, on finding me curled on a window seat behind a heavy drape of curtain, ‘could you… I mean, you know, since you’re only reading.’
‘You look lonely,’ a sleazy man once said, seeing me alone at a café table, ‘may I join you?’
Lonely? With a book?
I taught my kids quite early on that when Mummy was reading it was rude to disturb her, in the same way that if she was on the telephone or chatting with a friend they were not at liberty to interrupt. I also explained to them that the fewer pages there were to go in the book, the less pleased Mum would be to be disturbed.
My strategies for being able to read without distractions have been fairly inventive over the years. There have been times when a protracted trip to the toilet has provided the time I needed to give myself fully to the last chapters of a novel.
For the same reason I would often leave the ironing, the washing up or some other domestic task and set off early to collect the kids from school. This would garner a precious fifteen minutes or so for reading in the car before the bell tolled. I have also arranged child-care before I really needed it for doctors’ appointments, church services, parents’ evenings and dates. This tactic literally makes extra minutes in the day where a book can slide seamlessly into play.
Personally, I never leave the house without a book in my bag, just in case of delay, even when just going to the shops. You just never know. A book can make even a disaster like a punctured tyre, a cancelled train or a hospital visit bearable. A book is a life-saver at those times.
During one period in my life I was called upon to accompany the other half to business-related social functions. I had no interest in the work being animatedly discussed amongst the colleagues and no particular connection with the ‘other halves’ similarly brought along for the occasion. Add to this that I would inevitably be designated the driver and could therefore not partake of the liberal hospitality being consumed. All in all they were miserably boring and unenjoyable affairs until I hit upon the idea of taking with me a handbag large enough to conceal a book. From that time on I would sit at the table for about fifteen minutes after the meal, nodding and smiling and looking engaged, then excuse myself and find the ladies, where I would hole up for about twenty minutes, reading. Then, back to the table. By that time most people had drifted off to the melee by the bar including my husband. I would make a half-hearted attempt to locate him before disappearing again, knowing I would not be missed. This pattern repeated until it was time to go home.
‘Did you have pleasant evening?’ I would be asked, as I drove my inebriated husband home in the small hours.
‘Oh yes,’ I might enthuse. ‘Who knew? The murderer was in the attic the whole time!’
‘That’s nice, dear,’ would be the sleepy reply.
Nowadays I always take time to leave a short review for books I have read. I think they are important to other readers - don’t you check the reviews before you buy a book? I know they matter to writers too. Writing a book is like having a child, and publishing it is like sending that child out into the world on its own. A review tells the author that the kid’s doing OK (or needs recalling for some improvement!) What better than to know that my book gave pleasure, succour or enlightenment to someone else? That it distracted someone in a dentists’ waiting room or entertained them on a long flight? That it whiled away the hours while their husband got drunk at the office Christmas party? Wouldn’t that be a coincidence?