The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

Here’s what you would think if you were to look at my book­shelves: that I was somebody who read a huge amount in their twen­ties, and com­pletely gave up read­ing in their thir­ties. There fol­lowed, you would sur­mise by the con­tents of my shelves, a rel­a­tively short burst of en­thu­si­asm for read­ing again be­fore, three years or so, the reader gave up com­pletely. All of a sud­den, this has be­gun to worry me.

If you were to open the draw­ers in which I keep CDs, in­ci­den­tally, you would think the same thing. En­gaged to ut­terly dis­in­ter­ested, fol­lowed by short re­vival in in­ter­est, then noth­ing at all. With the mu­sic, you might con­clude that I had sim­ply fol­lowed the care-worn path of a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion; from youth­ful in­ter­est in rock’n’roll to ‘I can’t make out what he’s say­ing and what the hell is he wear­ing any­way’ putting away of fool­ish things. But be­cause you can’t see my CD col­lec­tion with­out know­ing where to look, this wrong im­pres­sion both­ers me less than my book­shelves.

What re­ally hap­pened, of course, was that my en­thu­si­as­tic read­ing lasted right up to the day when the new­born Small Girl was dis­charged from hos­pi­tal. Do you know what I was read­ing in the days after her birth? Mid­night’s Chil­dren by Sal­man Rushdie. That is the im­pres­sive tra­jec­tory I was on. By a huge (and ex­tremely pre­ten­tious sound­ing) co­in­ci­dence, I would go on to read two other brainiac In­dian nov­els, A Suit­able Boy and The God of Small Things, dur­ing my sub­se­quent con­fine­ments, but aside from those tomes, I don’t be­lieve I read a sin­gle book dur­ing the first 10 years of par­ent­hood that didn’t have a pic­ture of a fly­ing dog or a pink rab­bit on its cover. Then one day, I re­alised that I had – oh my God – a few min­utes to my­self. And so I re­turned to read­ing, and my book­shelves started to fill up again. And then I dis­cov­ered the Kin­dle, which some days now I think I might love more than my chil­dren.

Re­place the word Kin­dle with iPod and you will see the mu­si­cal jour­ney has run along much the same lines. But the mu­sic is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent be­cause CDs were never re­ally fur­ni­ture. Once

I’ve been look­ing at th­ese books and won­der­ing what to do. Last week I hoovered them – ev­i­dence of how rarely they’re used

you are over 21, it’s no longer re­ally ac­cept­able for strangers to run their fin­ger across the spines of your CD col­lec­tion and an­noy­ing ad­vise you on the holes in it. But book­shelves are about dis­play­ing books, and if the last 50 ti­tles that you read are all con­tained on a small tablet, then your abil­ity to daz­zle at din­ner par­ties is limited (ac­tu­ally, since my din­ner party jour­ney is almost iden­ti­cal to my read­ing and mu­si­cal ones, with its cur­rent cy­cle re­volv­ing around talk­ing to my brother and sis­ter on Skype while eat­ing chicken salad alone, this doesn’t re­ally mat­ter any­more). All of a sud­den, my book­shelves look dated. I could tell you that I’ve read four out of the five Booker short­listed ti­tles this year – I HAVE, HON­ESTLY – but un­less you can see them on my shelves, there’s no rea­son why you should be­lieve me. It’s a bit like hav­ing a wardrobe full of flares: it sug­gests you’ve been around for a long time, but it doesn’t re­ally prove you’re still here.

So lately I’ve been look­ing at th­ese yel­low­ing books and won­der­ing what to do. Last week, I hoovered them – ev­i­dence of how rarely they get moved around th­ese days. I could hold my nerve. On the book­shelves in our front room, after all, we have an at­trac­tive col­lec­tion of beau­ti­fully bound hard­backs in­her­ited from my mother-in-law. But I just can’t see my knack­ered pa­per­back copy of Ver­non God Lit­tle be­ing an aes­thetic event a cen­tury from now – and if it is, then I won’t be around to see it. And there is another in­con­ve­nient truth: aside from the ones with the fly­ing dogs and pink rab­bits, I have never in my life re-read a book. Too many of them, too lit­tle time.

So I am think­ing of draw­ing a deep breath and get­ting rid of them all. After all, they’re nice shelves. I could be­come the kind of per­son who puts a sin­gle, taste­ful or­na­ment on a shelf and lives a fab­u­lous life ac­cord­ingly. Or I could, if Ikea hadn’t sud­denly started call­ing it­self Ah-kay-ah and in­spired me to yet another of my ut­terly point­less nose-cut­ting-off boy­cotts that will now prob­a­bly last the rest of my life. Hon­estly, I could write a book about it. And ooh, I know just where I could put it.

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