I remember falling in love with Samuel Beckett’s works in Sixth Form. We were doing “Malone Dies” for A Levels and, in addition to having an excellent teacher, the searing scrutiny of the human condition resonated with something in my adolescent soul. After the three novels, I quickly went on to read “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame” and without hesitation declared the man a genius!
So taken was I with Beckett, that in a letter to my grandparents (then in their late 60s/early 70s) I exhorted them to read “Malone Dies”, telling them how good it was. I still remember my grandfather’s reply in his next letter. He said that at his age, he preferred to stick with writers he already knew and liked. It was the first time I had thought about having to choose which books to read based on limited time left for reading. I didn’t fully get it, but it seemed sad to the teen-aged me. I am now nearly 60, and I understand a bit better. I realize that I no longer have the time to read all the books I want to or would want to. Maybe I should begin to act my age, and not read with wild abandon.
That was how I read when I was younger. With wild abandon. Whatever I felt like. Whatever caught my interest or fancy. I never considered time to read a diminishing or limited resource. Of course I had time to read! I could read it all! I could read trashy novels, an entire fantasy series, a book about world superstitions, Naipaul (till I decided never again), every book by Jean Plaidy, every book by Beckett, “David Copperfield”, “Anna Karenina”, “Lord of the Rings”, I could read it all! I could sample something by an unknown author, wander off down unbeaten literary tracks, not at all concerned about whether I would like everything I found there or not. I had time, I had interest, how exciting it was! I could always come back to the tried and true when I was ready. Maps or GPS not needed! There were no flights to miss, no deadlines for this kind of journey! If I didn’t like the book, that was just another discovery to be noted. No question of time wasted or a reading opportunity lost.
But is that changing now? Or should it be? I don’t exactly hear time’s winged chariot, but I am aware that it may be only another 20 or 30 good years of reading left (given some family longevity genes). Maybe I should become more cautious in my choices, check out the bone fides of a book before reading it. Maybe I should spend more nights at home with old friends, rather than go for a wild fling, a possible one-night stand with a strange author! Blind dates with a book should perhaps be a thing of the past. Those pick-ups in an airport bookstore, waiting for a flight, may need to come to an end. Should I be drafting a book bucket list?
I haven’t decided. And maybe I won’t change my ways. But what I do know is that I am accepting that I will never be able to read all the books I would like to. That was always the truth, but I am aware of it now. And that’s a little sad.