As a child, I loved reading. I remember my first chapter book, received as a birthday or Christmas gift and read on busses to and from school, The Secret of Nym. I followed it up with Animal Farm, because it was about animals.
I remember reserving The Neverending Story at the library and waiting months for the card to arrive in the mail telling it me it was waiting for me. I eventually got my own copy because I didn’t like having to wait for the library when I wanted to re-read it. I read all of the Emily of Blue Moon books, most of the Anne of Green Gables series, and any time travel fantasies I could get my hands on. I adored The Last Unicorn, but hated Charles Dickens (don’t tell my mother-in-law).
As I got older, I started reading more science fiction, fantasy, horror and other kinds of speculative and dark fiction. I loved Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchet, Stephen King, Storm Constantine, and Christopher Fowler.
King’s Mid-world of the Dark Tower series, Pratchet’s Disc World, and Fowler’s London (especially the PCU’s London) are my favourite worlds to visit and revisit.
I was never a book a day, or even 2 books a week reader, but I read on the bus, in bed, during lunch breaks, when waiting for my dad in shops… I cried when beloved characters died, I felt the pain of their loss as though they were real friends (Eddie Dean and Oy’s deaths still hurt over 15 years later. Crippen’s death was a real shock, and hasn’t really sunk in yet), and I await the final Bryant and May book with a mixture of excitement and dread because I anticipate having to grieve again.*
I don’t know if it was the ME/CFS or the pressure of my studies (or both), but somewhere back in early 2007 I lost the ability to read novels. The last book I read for pleasure was Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before. It took me about a year to finish it, compare that to Eco’s The Name of the Rose, which had taken me 3 only days back in 2005.
Over the following years I was less and less able to read at all, struggling to follow any kind of complex narrative. Eventually I could only manage to read shorter scientific papers, and news articles, essays, but not whole text book chapters. Short stories were usually ok, but collections of good short stories are hard to come by, especially in NZ. I could manage single issue comics, but longer format graphic novels might take me weeks to get through. I think Watchmen took me over a month. I stopped taking books out of the library because I couldn’t finish them before they were due back.
In short, I had to keep it short.
I still loved books though. I bought copies of books that I remembered enjoying (I think I have 3 copies of the same edition of Neverending Story, the slightly larger than normal paperback, printed in red and green ink), and of new books I hoped I might be able to read one day, and my husband and friends bought me books for my Emotional Support Pile of Unread Books. Gone were the days of always having a book in my bag on case I had 2 minutes to kill, that wouldn’t be long enough for my brain to get moving.
In the last few years I have been listening to audio books. I still struggled with focusing on a narrative, but with practice I slowly got better at keeping the story in my head. Over the last 18 months I’ve listened to probably 50 books or more.
The problem I have with audio books, other than some narrators grating on my nerves, is availability. My local library has only about half of Fowler’s Bryant and May series** and only 1 other of his books (Book of Forgotten Authors – go buy a copy, it’s fantastic). I want to read the whole B&M series, and Calabash, and Red Bride, and Plastic, and Hell Train and everything else on offer. They don’t have them on physical media either.
I don’t know how much this gap is the result of these books just not being available in audio format and how much is just gaps in the library catalogue. Unfortunately, the gap exists.
Despite Fowler promising on Twitter that he’d come to my house and tell the remaining books through the letterbox, and my promising to hold him to that, I don’t like the chances of I’m traveling to the other side of the world right now (even though he would be entitled to a place in MIQ I’d he travelled here with his kiwi husband). This means I need another solution.
I could go on a rant about accessibility, but that’s not where I want to go with this right now. No, this is a tale to triumph over adversity.
Driven by desperation, by my need to catch up on all of the Bryant and May books I had missed while too sick to read (and before that, unable to even find them in New Zealand), I had another go. I went to the library and I borrowed a book.
A physical book.
With pages, and words, and a hard cover. It had a physical presence in my hand and needed my hands, my eyes, and extra parts of my brain to use it! And I read it!
I read the whole book. I almost read it in 2 weeks, but moving house got in the way a bit, but I finished it! I even followed the plot!
I’ve just started on a second book. This one is one of Fowler’s autobiographical mostly non-fiction books, which I couldn’t get on audio book. I’m loving it. I even managed 60 pages before my brain demanded a break.
I need to use my reading glasses, so my eyes don’t weaken and tire too quickly, and I have to read in bed with my electric blanket because my body forgets to heat itself when I’m reading (hopefully I get better with practice), but I’m reading again.
This is such an exciting development I have actually bought more books, which I intend to actually read! I found 2 older B&M novels at an online book exchange in NZ, and 1 more in a local book exchange. I just ordered Forgotten Authors from Book Depository, and have Pre ordered the last B&M (although I expect to be able to borrow the audiobook from library before that arrives). I’m trying to pace myself, especially with Xmas coming up (hint to my family, I have a wishlist of titles on Amazon), but mostly because reading is still an effort.
* added to this, I’m painfully aware that Fowler himself has been given a terminal diagnosis. I am already feeling the pain of that future loss. He has brought me so much joy since I discovered him 25 years ago, and I’ve enjoyed conversing with him on Twitter. He seems to be a really lovely man.
**John May and Arthur Bryant, of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, are such fun characters. They pop up in many of his other novels too, but they mostly appear in their own wonderful 20 novel crime fiction series. They have a whole supporting cast of colleagues and friends… and cats.