Of agony and ecstasy

2019-06-10 12:08
Stephanie Saville.

Stephanie Saville.

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I admit I’m a bit addicted. There’s no shame in my habit though. Lots of people do it.

We who submit to this pastime are frequently buoyed by it, often mystified but always entertained. We must devote time to it. We consume voraciously as we giggle or weep, grin or frown, as our fix takes hold. It induces a frenetic hive of cerebral activity. We’re happiest thus.

We’re the bookworms in your midst. The readers who revel in the printed word. There is, I am told, a growing trend back towards reading proper books (and newspapers). Hah! Take that the world of digital. I knew this would happen. Sales of devices for reading books on are declining and book publishers are realising that their star has not waned just yet.

It’s a return to permanence, a return to holding that palpable product in your hands, feeling the pages and turning them one by one by one. It’s the smell of the book, the ability to own it in a physical form.

By virtue of the fact that you’re looking at a newspaper or even an online version of it, I know you’re not averse to reading. And that, we all know, makes you a rather smart person. The many wonderful cognitive benefits of reading are well-known.

For me, it helps me detox from the stress of the day, allowing quiet time alone in my head. It’s the precursor to sleep, the only way I know how to mark the end of the day.

But while this all sounds wonderfully fulfilling, being an avid reader has its downside. Ever heard of abibliophobia? It’s the fear of not having a book lined up to read next and it’s a real thing in readers’ lives. If you’ve never experienced it, you’re lucky. Smokers could compare it to that dreaded fear of running out of ciggies. You know the craving will be so intense if you don’t have the next pack available, that you will happily traverse a haunted hurricane to get one. Come wind, come rain, come floods and storms; come spooks and ghosts and all things that go bump or boo in the night. As long as nicotine is part of the outcome, bring it on.

(Thank goodness all that worry is but a very distant memory for me now.)

Back to books. Last week I was caught off guard. I had just finished a book of such soulful ecstasy and was still on a high from it. You know the kind of novel that takes up residence in your thoughts during the day, coiling its plot around your brain and driving its characters into your soul. But now, the last chapter, page and words were done. I had clasped this gem to my chest one last time, absorbing every last sense of its magnificence and then reverently placed it on the top of the pile in my bedroom.

But it was only 8.45 pm. Sleep time was still a way off. I needed something to fill the gap until then. The book I’d lined up, I soon realised was not my cup of tea (or Horlicks). It was dead and dull, predictable and annoying, providing no hook for me to anchor my mind upon. It was, in short, the Donald Trump of books. I really tried to give it the benefit of the doubt but eventually submitted to this edict: life is too short to read a really bad book.

I had no books waiting to be reviewed — one of the best perks of my job, lucky me. I had also read or taken against the last batch of books I’d borrowed.

I hopped out of bed and ran to my bookshelves, dashing through the icy blast of the house in June to one room after another. Nothing I hadn’t read filled me with any excitement. I scanned the titles closer, taking a few books out hopefully, but tossed them aside when they failed to thrill me.

What to do? It was too cold for TV. I wanted to be snuggling back in bed. I don’t like phone browsing before bed because of the warnings that I won’t sleep if I do that. Having heard them, I now believe them, so I dare not surf the social-media networks after 8 pm.

I needed switch-off time with a book in my hands, glasses perched on my nose, perchance to drift off and sleep, perchance to dream. I really, really can’t sleep if I don’t read.

Dear reader, I was forced to resort to the lowest form of reading. I found an old book that I got free with a magazine in 19-voetsek, a penny-’orrible, a bad story written poorly,  devoid of literary merit or charm, but its pretty cover lured me in (Oh, I know!). A few chapters in I was mildly interested (at least not irritated like the Donald Trump tome). The penny-’orrible had done its job and I could soon drift off to sleep.

But the next night, having found a decent book during the day, I found I really had to know how the penny–’orrible finished, for the sake of closure you see.

So, we live and learn. Sometimes you see, life is too short not to read a really bad book.



Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis

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