And yet…. For the last few months I’ve had this niggling sensation that something is missing from this experience. It wasn’t until I read a post today at Sophisticated Dorkiness that I realised the nature of that missing element.
For decades I bought books or borrowed them from libraries after browsing through the shelves. Browsing was how in my mid teens I began to be a more serious reader, ditching my normal diet of Dennis Wheatley and Jean Plaidy in favour of rather more testing fare in the shape of Tolstoy, Herman Hesse, and even Jean Paul Sartre. I knew little of them but I discovered them simply by randomly picking books off the shelves. Our local library was a rather small affair but the librarians made the best use possible of their limited shelf space and I will be eternally grateful to those who decided residents in our town needed more than Agatha Christie to sustain them.
As the years advanced and I no longer had to rely on pocket money, I progressed to buying books. My browsing habits adapted. No longer able to just return free of charge, books I didn’t like, I had to be more discerning. So I skimmed a few pages first – but I was still browsing. It’s how I encountered Wilkie Collins (reading every one of his books in a few years); George Eliot and then, in more recent years, Sharon Penman (and fell in love with her trilogy of the Welsh princes); and even more recently Thomas Keneally and Emile Zola.
But now, when I go to a bookshop or a library, as Kim says in her post, I go with a list. Yesterday was fairly typical – I went looking for Dissolution (C J Sansom) because it’s our book club read for January. Within ten minutes I was back outside, new book in hand. In other words I’ve swapped browsing for searching. The only times I actually seem to browse now are when I’m hanging around an airport waiting for a flight – since I don’t tend to have my wishlist with me, I might pick up something I’ve not heard of before but sounds intriguing.
I want my earlier experience back. But I also enjoy the recommendations from others and ideas gathered from monitoring multiple blogs. Can I have both? Actually yes I think I can if I just decide once every couple of months to go to the library, leaving the wish list at home, and just randomly walk along the shelves, picking whatever takes my fancy. I might have to be disciplined not to cheat and take something that I know I’ve been wanting to read for months!. It might be hard to resist that temptation but I’m going to give it a go.