A few days ago I pulled a book off my bookshelves to read on the train; in searching for a book my primary requisite was that it should be a fairly slim book (to fit in my bag) and that it wasn’t Moby Dick. My last ‘train book’ was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and my next ‘lunchtime classic’ is supposed to be Moby Dick. However, after the flowing romanticism of Conrad I wanted to abandon the sea temporarily.
I chose The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, in doing so I wasn’t even sure that it was the same book that was made into the 2008 film starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes (I’ve yet to see it, but would like to), though I consequently discovered that it was. This book has sat on my shelf for many years, I cannot remember how or why I acquired it, whether it was a charity shop find, a gift from a friend, or part of a set of modern classics purchased from a book club. I was aware that it had sat there for many a year, and several house moves without being read, and I had previously felt no particular draw to read it.
And now I have, and what a gem it was! Beautiful in its apparent simplicity, yet powerful and compelling. How could I not have read this book before? As well as the pure enjoyment I have gained from this book, I am partly in wonder that my book collection could hide such a great book, waiting for me to be ready for it. I feel great happiness that this should be so, and wonder what else there is lurking in the shelves waiting to be discovered.
Whenever I think about my reading habits, especially my ‘train book’ which needs to be of a certain size, I find that I am giving myself a reason to have a Kindle (as well as being an avid reader I am a librarian, and have mixed feelings about e-book readers). If my ‘train book’ is restricted to a certain size, then think how I would be freed up if I used a Kindle… But would I experience such a serendipitious discovery if I relied on an electronic device? I don’t have one so cannot really comment on their usage – but I would expect that most people download books just before they read them. They pick a book they want to read in the near future and purchase it. Therefore you are not really going to experience the surprise of an unexpected discovery, and its not like you can fill your Kindle shelves with second hand books. Although I suspect that if I did own such a device I would probably download back catalogues of obscure gothic writers that were availabe for free, and in which case I might well find myself making surprise discoveries.
All that remains now is for me to peruse my shelves for my next ‘train book’ and hope that I find something equally astounding as Schlink’s The Reader.