Recently I embarked on Best Australian Stories 2009 (edited by Delia Falconer).
The very first story I dipped into was a short story by Gail Jones, entitled The Bridge of Sighs. Embarrassingly enough, I discovered three words I couldn’t remember the meaning of – in the first two pages alone. Propinquity, campanile and mendacious. (Look ’em up.)
I enjoy new words. I don’t necessarily use them myself, but stumbling upon them is like getting a shot of adrenaline because it reminds this word nerd of all those undiscovered adventures out there in the world. Like finding and reading the mega-novel of a region before travelling to that destination, the rationale being that you can learn a lot about why people are like they are if you read something monumental from their cultural history. (Sounds like a good idea, but would take some discipline.)
Book clubs are good for that. Every month or so you read a prescribed or agreed book. It means we read books we may ordinarily not gravitiate towards, nor perhaps even encounter.
But there is a part of me that likes to read stuff I want to read. It has taken me many years to realise that it is OK to put a book down and not pick it up again. Ever. (I think that will be me with Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveller’s Wife – not that the writing was bad – it wasn’t – but the premise was one I just couldn’t swallow.) I’m not sure where that ‘always finish what you start’ syndrome comes from, but I know lots of readers who have suffered from it over the years.
I must say there is something to be said for the story and adventure to be found in simply following the book trail as it presents itself to us. We hear about a book, someone hands us a copy, we stumble upon a review which piques our interest … It’s not linear, and it’s not prescribed. It’s definitely an adventure.
PS. I should just mention that somehow in my travels I have encountered and read Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing at least four times, and each time it felt like I was reading a different book. Amazing what time will do to the reader.