Reading is not a treat

Last night I choked on a walnut. I was reading a book by Lorenzo Galuppi – as you do – only to discover something truly disturbing: something supremely, startlingly and sickeningly malignant.

I found it on the last page of the novel. No: it wasn’t another one of Galuppi’s irritatingly post-modern denouements. It was, instead, an advertisement. An advertisement in a novel! I say this as if it surprised me. In truth, it didn’t. Books have long advertised other books – this is the way of the world (has long been, indeed, the way of the world). Advertisements for chocolate treats, however: this was relatively new to me.

My quarrel is not with chocolate treats. Whose is? Nor is my quarrel with advertisements for chocolate treats in obscure european novels, per se. It was, rather, the tenor and tone of this particular argument that laid a foul-smelling egg in the sweet nest of my soul. Allow me, if you will, to reproduce an especially vile section:

Curled up on the sofa, Sunday morning in pyjamas, just before bed, in the bath or on the way to work? Wherever, whenever, you can escape with a good book!

Before we consider the vapidity that floats like a suffocated swan at the centre of this passage, a brief note on its qualities. ‘Wherever, whenever’: this construct I must confess to loving. Books can be everywhere – yes, this is certainly true. We must take them everywhere, read them everywhere: anywhere and at any time – may the book be with you. This is very much the spirit of Speyer.

To say that the rest of the passage besmirches that spirit would be an understatement. These words dance a melancholy jig on Speyer’s strangely decorated grave. They deposit a plump ripe turd on his entire oeuvre. Sofa, Sunday morning, bed and bath: these are exactly the sort of loose reading environments that Speyer (and, indeed, I) have always fought against. Anywhere is better than nowhere, granted, but these environments foster a major misconception: that reading, as the advertisment goes on to suggest, is a source of indulgence, of relaxation: of escape. Reading is, in short, equated with chocolate treats. It is something you pop in your mouth, suck for a minute or two and promptly forget.

Otters above! Could this be any further from the truth? I will let you into a little secret here: reading is not a treat. Reading is not some kind of charming escape from life. Reading is not a form of relaxation: mere time-consuming entertainment. Reading is a serious business. By all means eat chocolate treats whilst reading – but do not ever compare the two. Reading, I repeat, is a serious business. It is a full-scale adventure, not a short ride on a merry-go-round.

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