The Curse of Reading

W Somerset Maugham
W Somerset Maugham

Does anyone else wonder if their love of books is a cause for concern?

Am I the only one who hates it when the sun shines, hearing my Father’s words to go out and get some fresh air?’. Am I the sole misogynist who loves his better half and would die to save her, but grits his teeth in frustration when she insists on talking while I’m reading? Are you split between the two horrors: fear when you’ve nothing to read or being daunted by all those books gloating at the side of ones bed? Are books the first things one packs when going on holiday? Can you picture oneself on ones deathbed taunted by all the works that you’re only halfway through?

One of the writers I can read over and over is…

W. Somerset-Maugham, one of the most widely travelled and well-read writers and as far as Stephen King is concerned one of the most unjustly neglected. The film version of the Painted Veil has been packing them in at the Arts Centre (I hated how they changed the hate filled ending of the husband’s death). For me his finest achievement were his short stories of human frailty.

Often these are set in exotic climes: the South Pacific, Malaya, the Far East. One has him in some South American backwater where he is so desperate for something to read that he is almost reduced to reading cigarette packets and catalogues.

His predicament sums up my reading obsession.

‘I fly to my book as the opium smoker to his pipe. I would sooner read the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw’s Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works…Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug we cannot do without-who of this band does not know the restlessness when he has been severed from reading for too long, the apprehension and the irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him?

Just in case you are looking for something to read (you are, aren’t you)? do try his short stories.

One thought on “The Curse of Reading

  1. jane 9 October 2008 / 3:01 pm

    I had to buy a new bookshelf the other day – had wondered if I needed to get rid of some of my books to make room, but in the end I couldn’t do it. So have squashed yet another piece of furniture into my already cluttered house. For me reading is escape and a chance to dive headfirst into other peoples lives.

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