I studied English Literature at uni – lots of books, lots of reading. I did pretty well at it. And yet, sitting on the side of the bath the other morning, brushing my teeth and struggling to shake off a thick fog of tiredness I thought: ‘I’m not sure I’m actually all that good at reading’.
Because you see, since Christmas, I’ve been trying to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’ve made it to page 438 out of 650. The Daily Mail calls it ‘Dizzyingly, dazzlingly good’.
But if I’m honest, 438 pages in and I just wasn’t feeling dazzled. Granted there’d been sections that had really captured me, but past the half way point and ploughing on was beginning to feel like a struggle.
Tipping point for me was the evening I took the book in the bath with me. I read a couple of pages, tossed the book onto the floor and made a start on shaving my legs. And then it hit me. I hadn’t the slightest idea what I’d just read about. Not a clue. My brain had wandered off to think other thoughts while my eyes had carried on ‘reading’.
And it’s this ‘reading’ without actually reading that I’m really rather good at. Leading me to wonder, sat on the side of the bath brushing my teeth at 7am one Friday morning, whether I’m actually any good at reading after all. Because back at uni, things like Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton, Spenser, anything Medieval or Renaissance just didn’t really register in my brain as I read. I had to concentrate really, really hard.
And as for Wolf Hall, it dawned on me – that night, shaving my legs in the bath – that the only thing still keeping me reading was the sense of failure I’d feel for giving up, for not being ‘smart enough’. It’s supposed to be a great book after all, why am I struggling with it?!
Realising this may not be the best reason to carry on reading a book, I decided to embrace the sense of failure and give up on Wolf Hall.
And now I’m reading an even bigger book – Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True.
I’m relieved to say it’s going so much better!