World Book Day today, and there’s a £1 book for everyone under 18 in the British Isles (discussion of the politics of that short-hand term another time, please). There’s an app, there are trailers for the books, you can win a whole set of Oksa Pollock‘s fabulous stories, and write the next part of the equally fabulous Malorie Blackman’s new novel. That’s besides the traditional dressing up as your favourite literary character for a day at school.
It seems books are becoming less and less like books, and more and more like social media. It’s no surprise, then, that publishers are taking a leaf out of the Netflix manual – and adapting another new word of 2013 – by encouraging us all to binge-read.
The desire to know What Happens Next is very strong, and it was there in page-turners, and torches under the bed covers, and walking into lampposts etc. because you had your nose in a book, long before it was there on screen.
So maybe I am just getting old, but binge-reading sounds different; more like a Roman feast with the requisite throwing up so you can eat again, less like the satisfaction of finishing a meal which it took all day to cook. The Netflix-induced stupor is not the same as the exhilaration and exhaustion of reading to the last page. Even if in both cases, you are bereft of characters that feel like friends.
Just like the slow food movement’s response to fast food, maybe we need a slow, savouring reader response to binge-reading?
If there just isn’t the time, less is more. I still read slowly in Finnish, for example, so I’m reading a poem a day for breakfast.
Maybe the best kind of savouring reading of all really is to go back to poetry.
At first light I put my hand in the hollow of a white willow – once someone's cigarette box had been left there – now a bird flew out going seaward. Touch of a wingquill on the back of my hand. It flew higher. In the evening I felt its touch on my shoulder blade.
From Mirkka Rekola’s Valekuun reitti (“path of a false moon”), translated by Herbert Lomas.