My house is full of books. I sometimes think I should put signs up, like a bookshop: crime section along the outside wall downstairs; general fiction and travel upstairs; plays, poetry and non-fiction between dining room and kitchen; various assorted children’s books up in the loft. Not that I need to draw attention to the books, exactly. They’re pretty much the first things people see. Which is exactly as it should be.
I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t a book person. At infants’ school I ached to be allowed to progress faster through the reading scheme which was meant to enrich our vocabulary and teach us pronunciation, and get on to the real books. Later, my friends pushed doll’s prams or played football with the boys, while I curled up in a chair with Heidi. I joined the adult library when I was twelve, having exhausted the kids’ section’s stock of boarding school tales and science fiction.
These days, a day without reading time is a bleak one, and if I reach for a book and there isn’t one there, my hands don’t quite know what to do. During our recent three-day visit to my Welsh homeland, I misjudged: I packed the book I was reading at the time, finished it on the first night and had to go in search of a replacement the following day. Not that buying a book causes me any distress or difficulty – rather the opposite. But since my to-be-read pile already had nine chunky volumes in it and was about to be expanded by a further four, words like overkill and excessive come to mind. Though not for long. It’s not possible to have too many books. Ever.
Given the above, it’s hardly surprising that the freelance life I’ve built for myself revolves around the printed word. If I’m not writing it, I’m editing it, and when I’m doing neither I’m reading it, sometimes for review, sometimes purely for pleasure. Take this week. It’s only Wednesday, and already I have:
- researched and written two 300-word features for a local newspaper;
- researched a third feature, to be written later today;
- started to give a book I’m editing its final read-through, a task I’ll probably complete tomorrow;
- reviewed the book I finished that first night in Wales;
- read the first of the four new additions to the pile, which were in Monday morning’s post, ready for
- reviewing it, which will probably happen tomorrow, along with the editing.
After that, doubtless other book- or print-related tasks will appear in my in-box. If they don’t, there’s a novel in manuscript which a friend has asked me to give an opinion on; I made it to halfway last week, before the paid and deadlined work kicked in again.
All this and the Sunday papers and general knowledge crossword too...
But then words are essential. They’re part of the warp and weft of life. They’re the way we humans communicate. Stating the obvious, maybe, but since there is a manifest determination to devalue what writers do by cutting book prices to the bone and putting publishers in the position of paring their costs likewise, I think it’s an obvious that needs to be stated now and again. That way, writers maybe feel a little more valued and their very real skills are properly appreciated.
And if I’ve done my bit to make that happen, my work for today is done.