Monday, 8 November 2010

Dear Reader

The opening essay of Anne Fadiman's charming collection, Ex Libris, entitled 'Marrying Libraries' is about her and her husband's efforts to 'mix' their books together. Their other effects had happily cohabited for years, but five years into their marriage her Billy Budd remained at the north end of their apartment, his Moby-Dick at the south. When their shelves were finally collated the ensuing arguments - Fadiman is a 'splitter', George a 'lumper' - made her husband seriously contemplate divorce.

I labour under no such pressures. When I moved into my husband's flat I had a wall of bookshelves installed, and they easily accommodated my husband's spare and random collection of books (an ode to his school; a not-very-good novel by a comedic National Treasure; miscellaneous Australiana; a dictionary of wine bigger and more detailed than the OED).

Here, I've given him a few little sections of his own: a row of books about his family history, mostly gifts or in waiting for our sons; a few books I think he might like, and have put aside when requested to wait for him to notice them (this is the section that grew steadily by his bed for 4 years in our old flat, and includes 2 books by me published since we've known each other, but which, to my knowledge, remain unread, apart from the dedication pages); and journalistic books about the state of the nation or the modern world - Who Runs Britain, Freakonomics, that sort of thing.

The problem (if it is a problem; perhaps situation is a better word) is that he hasn't ever, to my knowledge, finished one of them. One of my mother's few pieces of advice to me when I was a girl was not to trust people - men was the implication - Who Didn't Finish Books. That won't be something I need to worry about, I remember thinking. You may have chosen badly on this account with my father, a delight in other ways but not, in his youth at any rate, a sticker; but I won't make that mistake. How could I possibly fall in love with someone who doesn't read?

And so sure enough I find myself with someone who not only has barely any books to contribute to our shared bookshelves but someone who never finishes a book - not even a book he likes. I tell myself that it's because he's too obsessed by current events, and that anyway it wouldn't do to be competing on the same field - another reader might not have given me the space I need. The strange, and extraordinarily touching, thing is that he's almost more wedded to the idea of me being a writer than I am.

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