Human Traces

I know I am not the first person to realise that I am suffering more and more from a short attention span but at many times I have really been ashamed of it. I used to be an avid reader, but I have realised that I am not reading much lately and what I do tend to read is light and disposable. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, but I used to mix it up a bit more. I still buy books. I love the process of selecting one in a bookshop, then finding something else, trying to make a decision, then deciding to buy both. Or, since I live in Spain, standing in a bookshop in Dublin, wondering exactly how many books I can pile into my hand luggage and what clothes I can leave with my parents before I fly back, But then when I am back they often sit there for long periods of time before I touch them again. I dread going anywhere without a book, so I always seem to have a few on the go, but might only read a few pages at a time. I am an internet addict, but I kind of regret the ubiquity of internet access. Much of my new book devouring was done on the North Dublin commuter line, whereas now I refresh my Facebook, see what is being discussed on and never get the chance to fall in love with a book.

I am on an airplane right now and have just finished an amazing book. It’s one I’ve read in three stages, but it’s only really won me over on this journey. This might be a bit sappy, but any book that makes me cry in public is something special. I’m pretty happy not to have internet access on planes. I know that soon enough it will be the norm though.

So why am I writing all of this? I’ve decided two things. I want to start reading again and I have too many unread books on my shelf. Last year I had a conversation with a friend of mine where she was telling me she was addicted to buying clothes and I compared this with my addiction to buying books. Some time ago she decided to cut back on buying and ‘shop her own wardrobe. I was reminded of a phase I went through about 4 years ago. I had just come back from South America and I was completely broke. I was lucky enough to get a job, but I had to plan everything I spent down to the last euro. So I made a pact with myself not to buy any new books, but instead to read from the many I already had on my shelf. I discovered some gems in this way.

On moving to Spain I brought only a few precious previously read books, the remainder were from the ‘great unread’ so I suppose I continued in this way for a while, but somewhere along the way I started having those book binges in Hodges Figgis and other bookshops. I justified it to myself in that it was a time of recession and now that I had a decent permanent job it was my personal responsibility to keep these places afloat. I was only gone a short while and Waterstones and Hughes & Hughes had vanished from the landscape. (H&H may be back again, I can never keep up…)

But I have to stop buying books and not reading them so I’m revisiting my pact for the foreseeable future. (I can’t put a timetable on it, sorry!) The only new books will be presents, books for book club (not relevant at the moment, but possibly in the future.), books brought with gift vouchers, if I receive any.

What I’d like to do when I get home is write up an inventory of the unread books on my shelf and then cross them off as I read them and write about reading them. I don’t think I am going to be writing reviews exactly, I don’t think I am going to be writing reviews exactly, I don’t know that I feel intelligent enough for that, but just some thoughts and maybe how they relate to me or my experience while reading them.

If there are any masterpieces waiting (and I know some of them are deemed to be so, considering the excerpts from reviews on their covers) please let me know. It’s one thing to read a cold critic’s review and another to receive an impassioned recommendation from a fellow book lover. I’m not going to swear off the internet or even just Facebook, just maybe tone it down a little.

Also I’ll try to stop getting addicted to American TV Series. In the last few months I’ve watched the entirety of Veronica Mars and Greek. I’m starting on season 5 of Breaking Bad, but I watch that with my husband, so I’m not going to make him follow suit because of my weird ideas. In a similar theme to the books though, I have a pile of foreign language or indie films waiting to be watched, but if we decide to watch a film instead of another episode of whatever series we are currently engrossed in, we never pick them. ‘Too heavy’ is the verdict. ‘Need something light tonight’.I think I’ll leave my catching up on weird foreign films to whenever we get a decent TV. Our current one is awful and watching things on a laptop is not quite the same.

But I’ll leave that campaign for another time. I had started writing about books and now I’m digressing.

So to start with the book I’ve just finished is ‘Human Traces’ by Sebastian Faulks. I’ve read a lot about Sebastian Faulks and I know his reputation but I’ve only ever read one of his books and to be honest I can’t remember which one it was. It might have been one of his weaker ones or perhaps I was not yet mature enough a reader to appreciate him, but I was not really tempted to read any more.

We do a Christkindl in our family and last year my sister’s boyfriend had me. Part of his present was this book. I was happy, as I’m always happy to receive books as gifts and he told me he had read it and found it very good. I’m sorry to say that once I was back in Spain it went on the shelf. Too heavy, too much effort.

I eventually picked it up at some stage and read about 200 pages, but while I found it interesting I obviously put it down at some stage and didn’t pick it up again. Then last month they were coming to visit and I felt I should give it another go. I started getting more into it. We were on the beach on day and he noticed that I was reading it and mentioned that it was a really good book, though very sad. I agreed and didn’t remind him that he himself had given it to me.

This time I did want to continue but I temporarily mislaid it. Then just before this trip I was trying to choose a book to bring and selected two, but forgot to bring them with me. Luckily this one was sitting in the car all long. So I picked up where I left off, familiarised myself with the characters again and read and read. I got deeper and deeper and even though I could see where things were going I still couldn’t stop the tears when they came. The book follows two psychiatrists from their childhoods in the 1870s. It seems to be very well researched, though sometimes difficult to know what is fact and what is fiction. From the subject matter I don’t think there was any possibility for it to be a particularly happy book so A was not exactly spoiling me by telling me that it was ‘very sad’ as there are thousands of different ways this could be demonstrated. It’s been quite some time since I was last engrossed in a book like this and it’s something that I’ve missed.

In any case, the journey on which I wrote this is over, so I’m going to stop writing about it and start getting back to the reading.



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