I arrange my shelves by publication date in an attempt to understand how each book relates to its neighbours. The spines remind me that Moby Dick, Bleak House and Madame Bovary appeared in that order in the 1850s. That The Trial, The Great Gatsby and Mrs Dalloway all debuted in 1925. Because in addition to reading books individually, I need them to remind me of their bigger story. That literature lives.
Even without doing the maths, I know that I won’t have enough time to get through everything I’d like to. So I keep my head down and get on with the greats. Sure, I suffer relapses. I stop altogether or am tempted by a hyped novel, but more often than not this leaves me dissatisfied and incomplete . . . and reminding myself not to waste time.
Reading, for me, is a preparation for the next ascent. And I climb because the views are breath-taking! I’ve not yet tackled War and Peace; I’m training with the The Red and the Black and Les Misérables.
Frustratingly, there are books I’d love to read, but that I haven’t feel confident enough to open . . . perhaps because I’m uncertain of how to start, or because I feel daunted by their weight. If I had an obol for every time I’d attempted to settle down with The Odyssey before I met Toby, I’d have enough money to buy myself a copy of The Iliad. Which is why I value the Salon: without it I wouldn’t have found my way into the poem; without her I’d have missed a friend.
Books are quiet, thoughtful companions, that scare easily. I value them because during especially difficult times of my life, my capacity to engage with stories is often the first things to vanish. And that’s not unlike losing a friend, or a lover. So when I’m able to, I read. I read. I read.