How to break up with a book (and other stories)

Finding a book you can be happy with is exactly the same as finding a lover.

First, you assume there will be serendipity. You go to all the right places; you see what covers take your fancy. The lighting is all wrong in a supermarket (and you are not swayed by ‘3 for 2’) and it’s hard to read in a club; you hope, then, for recommendation by a mutual friend. Your friends think very hard for you (they are happily committed to their books; they can’t wait to meet the book you eventually decide upon), perhaps even suggest a name or two, but the hope is short lived and your friends find your taste unpredictable.

You sift through memories, then, of all the books you’ve read in the past (some will multiply this number by seven, some will divide; there is a certain pride reserved for those who have taken years to read one single book), and think about what exactly you would like to be different (or the same), this time. Some people slip up here, and re-read previous tomes; this never ends well and if you once were together and then decided to part, each shrinking backward, then warning horns should be blaring; the readerly experience cannot un-yellow in absence alone. That is basic fact.

Perhaps you make lists of pre-requisites, which you whittle down to three or four core values; you understand that neither you nor the book will be flawless; there is virtue in such a list’s minimalism.

The abandoning of certain books can instil both triumph and regret (perhaps they had mixed chapters; an uneven, dwindling, confused sort of trajectory; perhaps there are rumours of them being read by other readers simultaneously) though you smile when you recall certain lines and thank them for changing your life.

There are the books you always imagine you’ll read but can’t find a way into.

Some books are far too old for you, though you suspect they are classics.

Some books are all beginning and no end. All talk no action. You are not here to discuss the weather (unless it is clouds, and metaphors are best when surprising); you prefer unconventional thinking and spines intact.

And then there are the ones you flirt with via apps; the ones you add to ‘to read’ lists because you think they’ll be right up your street. You make vague arrangements to read one or two of them, then flake entirely and panic-uninstall the app (you are riddled with memories of endless first-pages in the past; pleasant but forgettable evenings of inoffensive dead-ends); you have a niggling sense that you’re not really that interested, actually, and you’d rather not waste the book’s time.

Each book has a mother, and you are wracked with guilt every time you say no to a good one.

You have more of a type than you think you do, and far less of one. The books all over your bedroom floor are all different colours; some are translations. All of them recommend themselves and claim to want to entertain you, help you, delight you…

In recent history, a whole pile of books fell on top of you. Your toe is still black.

But the rush! The rush you get when you’ve tried three first-pages in a row and are tired, then hit upon something entirely new that has you thinking of it in every moment of your spare time. The one worth waiting for. You can’t help but push open such a cover and listen; you would go anywhere with it, beg for its voice all over you. It’ll turn your mind upside-down.




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