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Writer and Artyness columnist Barbara Henderson has a confession ...

By Barbara Henderson

The guilt! It gnaws away at me every time I walk past the bookshelf.

Barbara Henderson.
Barbara Henderson.

It pokes me and prods me and declares in loud banners fluttering in the sky: this reader is a failure. A FAILURE!

I’m an I’ve-started-so-I’ll-finish sort of girl. I begin a book and then I will see it through, even if it takes me days, weeks and on one occasion, months. As a closet slow reader, I don’t get through 70-plus books a year as many of my peers seem to. To quote Scotty from Star Trek, my brain just ‘cannnae take it. Captain’. I am the type of reader who savours a book, reading its beautiful passages at snail speed, as if reciting them aloud to myself. If they move me, I may even repeat the process. I have to give my mind room to react, to feel it all, to immerse myself. That, to me is the pleasure of reading.

And yet, I am my father’s daughter, and as goal-oriented as they come. I can’t quite shake the expectation that I should have something to show for my time. And yes, that means finishing a book that I have begun – anything else, put in black-and-white terms, is failure as my to-be-read pile of books grows.

Trying to read a book that just isn't grabbing you...
Trying to read a book that just isn't grabbing you...

Yesterday I stepped away from a book I had been persevering with for most of January, and it shall remain nameless. The alarm bells really should have rung much earlier. You see, when I find other jobs to do rather than read, it means something is amiss. The types of books that I fly through are the ones which engage me so much that I hold them in my left hand while stirring the dinner pot with my right. I will then be plagued by another sort of guilt, the guilt of reading when I really should be more productive. Housework will lie ignored, washing piles rise to Himalayan proportions, half-conversations will be attempted by my increasingly frustrated family. I meanwhile will be in a different world, blissfully ignorant, turning pages in a daze.

Ironically, I was actually enjoying the book I abandoned. I had gone to some trouble to procure it, even. It was written in an engaging and interesting way. Nevertheless, somehow, my heart did not connect. At this rate, this will take me forever to read, I thought, and it was true. Last night, with a sigh of frustration, I closed the unfortunate tome and placed it back on the bookshelf. The deed was done and, faithless scoundrel that I am, I turned to another.

Luc van Donkersgoed is said to have written: “Think not of the books you have bought as a ‘to-be-read-pile’. Instead, think of your bookcase as a wine cellar. You collect books to be read at the right time, the right place, and the right mood.”

I have decided: I’m letting myself off the hook. Reading is for enjoyment, inspiration, imagination, empathy and empowerment.

And when the time, place and mood is right, I am sure I will return to my poor book, spurned for now.

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