Monday, 4 July 2011

Neil Gaiman | Books | Competitive reading: it's not what novels you've read that count, but how many

It's the dark not so secret truth at the heart of ever book obsessed individual. It's why so many of us are resisting e-books - at least in part. Because it isn't what you've read that really counts, it is how many, how thick they were, and the fact you have them piled up around the house.

The book group was comparing and contrasting the other day and three members discovered to their delight that I had not yet read American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I've read four of his books, but not that one. It's on my to do list, but it is a big book and big books take time so I've not tackled it yet.

But there was a certain glee in the fact that neither I or another group member had got round to it yet. This was one-upmanship at its most raw. A notch on the bedpost we couldn't claim but they could.

Reading is a deeply personal, solitary affair. You have to lock yourself away either mentally or physically in order to consume a book and you do so at your own pace and bringing your own life experiences to it. Films and television are completely different experiences.

And yet the communal aspect of reading the same book as someone else is extremely important. We are compelled to share in what we are reading, which is why book groups, reading lists and the Top 100s are so vitally important. Humans are social animals and we like to know what each other is doing and thinking. This I think explains why some books take off: why suddenly everyone wants to share in the experience of reading a Larsson, Rowling or a Brown. And why some readers generate an extraordinary loyalty to one or more authors, without whom they can not imagine functioning.

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