I’d been reading a non-fiction book, JB Priestley’s English Journey. I’m a big fan of Priestley’s novels, and I like his voice, and I’d been trying to get a copy of his famous – but out of print – travelogue for a while. Finally I was given a dog-eared old hardback for Christmas, which I got about 100 pages into before starting to feel restless.
That’s not a reflection on the book at all, but it’s a common experience for me when reading non-fiction. I know this is a golden age for non-fiction, and I do occasionally buy and read a book on sport or music or history, or whatever takes my fancy. But however good they are, I never look forward to reading them the way I do when I’ve got a novel on the go.
I tend to read books on the train home after work. If I’m in the middle of a novel, I start to feel a tingle of anticipation the moment I leave the office, and when I reach my stop at the end of the journey, a slight feeling of resentment that I’ve got to stop reading. But if I’m reading a work of non-fiction, the resentment comes at the start of the journey, or at least a feeling of… dutifulness, I suppose.
The truth is that, as I approach the age of 50, reading anything that isn’t made up still feels a bit like homework to me. It’s something I feel I ought to do rather than something I want to do, whereas being immersed in a novel is a wonderful, addictive feeling that I hope I never lose.
I will get back to English Journey before too long, though I suspect I’ll read it in short chunks rather than all the way through. In the meantime, I’m thoroughly absorbed by Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies, and looking forward to spending some quality time with it over the Easter break.