I imagine it won't be a surprise if I confess that I'm a compulsive reader. After all, isn't it a prerequisite for the writer?
In the last year, I've joined a book club, which is great fun, although I do have a guilty secret - I really do go for the books, not the wine and company. They're the cherry on the cake -but it's the books I'm addicted to. There's something wickedly indulgent about 'having' to read a book for this pseudo-intellectual pastime called 'book club'. My mother is surprisingly supportive about babysitting while I go out - I think she's under the impression that book club is very worthy and must be improving my mind. I haven't mentioned the wine to her - Old Methodism runs in her veins.
Anyway, this month's book is The Behaviour of Moths, and I had a stack of hand-me-down books from my sister-in-law that I thought I might tackle first. And then something awful happened. It skewed my whole perspective; there was cosmic misalignment. Let me tell you about it.
I read the first book(not something I would have picked up in a shop, but it had won an award, for goodness' sake!) and it was an all right story with a quirky voice, which ran on a bit too long and left me feeling a bit 'meh'. (I know. I'm meant to love words, and I just described something as 'meh'. But I quite like the word 'meh'. I'm leaving it there, anyway!)
I tackled the next book with enthusiasm, ready for a change. It was a real chick-lit book, the kind I expected to be enjoyable, at least. It wasn't. The protaganist was a shallow, selfish drama-queen. I didn't understand her motivations, and, worse, I didn't like her. But I held on (I hate to leave a book unfinished - I really am compulsive) hoping there'd be an ending that would make it all worthwhile. To my disgust, it ended with a whimper - an inconclusive conclusion that left me feeling conned. The only reason I'd held on was to see how things ended, and the author finished in the laziest way. I felt cheated, and picked up the next in the pile.
This one was women's fiction, but the cover looked more serious, and the blurb sounded OK. Again, I wouldn't have chosen it in a shop, but who looks a gift book between the covers? Well, I did, of course. I read the whole blinkin' thing from page 1 to page I-don't-care-anymore. It was the dullest, most uninspiring book I've ever read, filled with characters I'd have liked to drown. If you asked me, "So, what happened in this book?" I don't know. Perhaps that it was about two women, facing decisions and thinking about them. Sounds boring? It was. Again, one of them didn't even come to a conclusion, and the other one did, but it was so morally questionable I took a real dislike to her.
You might be thinking how judgmental I am, but honestly, it wasn't me, it was the books! I've never read such a run of duds. And that's the scary thing. Half way through that last one, I realised that I was dreading picking it up. I realised that the last few weeks of reading felt like I'd wasted hours of my life. I saw for the first time how easy it would be to hate reading, or to not see the point. If I hadn't had nearly 40 years of love to succour me, I might've given up on reading after this experience. How awful is that?
Being the person I am, I put my writer hat on and tried to think about why these books didn't work for me, so that I could learn from them. It made me feel better, that the time wasn't entirely wasted.
Then, with my faith in books battered but not destroyed, I turned to The Behaviour of Moths. After all, I had to read it, and before Wednesday. If it turned out to be hard labour like the last one, I'd better start sooner rather than later.
And my faith has been restored. It's a triumph of a story, utterly believable, haunting, dark and yet somehow not too heavy. I was captivated and devoured it in a couple of days. Thank goodness for book club. It just goes to show the power that writers wield - not just to offer pleasure and enjoyment to fans, but to put people off reading with a bodged effort (and the books I've mentioned above were all traditionally published). We owe it to our readers to put in our best work, to create likeable, memorable characters, gripping, believable plots that are well paced, and writing that zings on the page. When I've cracked it, I'll let you know...