Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Book at Beach Time

An article in this morning's Daily Telegraph by a correspondent, whose name escapes me, advocates the principle that, if the first few chapters of a book don't grab you, throw it away and start another.
At least, I think that's what he meant. It seems an odd philosophy and one that would consign some of the world's greatest books to the literary dustbin if it were to be widely adopted. And would, of course, deprive a good many readers of a fine reading experience.
He was referring to holiday reading matter and has one valid point. That the reading material claimed to be carried off on their jolly hols by members of the government almost certainly remain unread, most of it looking like hard work. It is surely pure PR stuff.
Authors know full well that the first chapters of their masterpiece must be pretty eye catching for agents and publishers to go any further. Specifically, it should be geared to the office boy or girl who will probably be given first shot at it, the RIP (really important people) in the office preferring to be guided by them as a labour saving measure.
This accounts for much of the tosh that clutters up airport bookshelves, I suspect.
The DT columnist cites the example of a Parisian professor of literature who, whilst quoting James Joyce Ulysses, admits he has never read it.
Who's to blame him? I'm still looking for the reader who has finished it.
But all books that start slowly are not to be easily dismissed and a little perseverance can yield wonderful rewards.
The problem may well be that television and film have created an audience conditioned to instant gratification. It's a medium that demands nothing of its audience, an osmotic process that calls for no cerebral processes, just the ability to stay awake. And, even if that fails, you can probably pick up the story from where you nodded off.
I'm not an expert on holidays, let alone holiday reading matter, since I don't take them (holidays, I mean, not reading matter). This is not due to any puritanical streak or inflated work ethic, it's just that I get bored after 36 hours – and being bored on a beach, well, it's enough to make you chuck away the book you brought with you. Which is, perhaps, the point he was trying to make.
I am something of a bibliophile (my wife refers to it as bibliomaniac and she may well be correct) and for years I thought that it was illegal to leave a bookshop without at least three volumes under your arm. I understand that this law has now been repealed but old habits die hard.
In consequence, I have a fine library but would be the first to admit that many are, as yet, unread. It's just a matter of time.
But I can assure you, even if the opening chapters are not immediately riveting, none will be thrown away.
So if you happen to be sitting on a beach this year and find yourself alongside the aforementioned DT correspondent, watch out!
You might get a boring book in your ear as he tosses it away.


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