The thing about books, and reading, is that there’s a long list of rules. Sure, I might have made them up in my head. They might be rules that only I follow, or even acknowledge, but that’s just because of everyone else’s stubborn refusal to be sensible. In the interests of educating the wider populace, here’s some rules to flout at your own peril.
Looking at an open book in public is the universal symbol for Leave Me Alone. Just trust me on this. In the same way that sitting at a computer implies working/playing and sitting in a cinema implies viewing, holding an open book should be a clear indication that idle chit-chat is not warranted or welcome. In fact, because reading is a uniquely solitary exercise, I’d argue that it demands even more careful observation of Stay The Hell Away than any other pursuit. So forgive my utter bewilderment and chilly response when I am interrupted while reading in the work lunch-room because someone wants to have a conversation. Even worse is the question “what are you reading?” because it makes me fearful the poor soul isn’t aware of that medium that is somewhat like a film but in a written, pictureless, format. It’s called paper and on it is printed words which are combined together to tell a story. I’m not an unkind person. But unless the building is on fire please respect that I’m in the middle of an important plot development and whatever you have to say may just not be that interesting.
2. Pace yourself. Otherwise known as Don’t Take a Book With A Chapter To Go on Holiday.
It always ends in tears.
I tend to read more than one book at a time. Perhaps I just have a short attention span. So when I was packing to go on holiday last year I had a stack of four books, each with a chapter or so left to read, to take with me. As satisfying as it was to come back with four finished books and a new one half-read, no-one needs to carry that amount of luggage. And angles weep for the idiot who finishes their novel in the half hour between boarding the plane and take-off.
This is a tricky one though because what do you do? Race through the last quarter of the book because you’ve suddenly got a deadline? And even committing to one book for the trip is hard. What if you get away and realise what you’re reading isn’t that crash hot? I confess I can’t help you with this one. But there’s something about embarking into the blue yonder, on break from the world, and the thrill of a freshly opened new book that just seems to work.
As a mostly unrelated aside, I have a Kindle which you’d think would help in this situation but I found most of the novels I wanted to read were “unavailable for Kindle in Australia” so I stopped using it. Right now it’s sitting on a book shelf at home, feeling sad and unloved. It isn’t even charged. Has this changed? I would like to use it.
3. Book maintenance snobbery. Don’t be that guy.
I crack the spines on my books. I dog ear them and shove them in handbags and read them in the bath and get them all wet and if I spill coffee on a page I don’t really care unless words are obstructed. In my opinion books should be lived in not a museum exhibit. I don’t understand people who want their books kept pristine. They’re there to convey a message. Your copy of The Luminaries isn’t worth more to collectors in its original packaging. And isn’t ink on paper a wonderful medium because of its tactile, vulnerable nature?
4. A curse on unfaithful book borrowers. May all their novels contain typos.
Having said the above, I would never treat someone else’s book that way. Other people’s books should be treated like other people’s children – kindly and with due respect for their ability to relay uncomfortable information about your habits or character to third parties at any time. When borrowed they should always be returned unharmed and telling no stories that might require intervention by the authorities.
Your turn. What book rules do you live by? Which do you flout? Or am I the only one who thinks this way? It wouldn’t surprise me.