In his latest novel, The Land that Even the Land Forgot, Marshall Krinshek introduces a character called Lorna Effelwager, a part-time baker and full-time consumer of books. Effelwager’s approach to literature is, to say the least, a somewhat violent one. She doesn’t ever go so far as to ever eat books, granted, but only rarely does a book survive her readings without pages being stained, spines collapsing or whole sections falling out. ‘For her,’ writes Krinshek, ‘reading a book was a battle from beginning to end. A book was an opponent with whom she fought to the death. To say the books suffered was only half of it. Effelwager herself rarely came out of the ordeal without multiple wounds. At least four books had taken her to hospital. One book almost bled her to death’.
We can all learn from Effelwager, I think. A book is often a beautiful object, no doubt, but one can handle a book with too much care. The point, after all, is to read the damn thing – not to get to the end with the spine intact. What matter if a page rips, or if one spills wine on chapter four? So long as the words get through to the reader, what more do you need? The rest is preciousness: needless, pointless, preciousness.
Technology presents further difficulties. I have no great problem with the ‘kindle’, per se. But the name of it never ceases to worry me. It is redolent, I think, of comfort. It sounds like ‘kindness’ and ‘candle’. It is a warm, friendly word, which brings to mind a cosy armchair and a gentle, flickering fire. The perfect reading environment, some might say. Others, however, would disagree. Reading is not an act of kindness. It is not a gentle activity: something to while away the winter evenings. Reading is a matter of life and death. Reading, as Effelwager would have it, is a great battle. You versus the page. And may the best one win.