My housemate is bereft now that it is summer. She wanders around the house in the evenings not knowing what to do with herself. I hadn’t noticed this was what she was doing until she asked yesterday, ‘You don’t even notice that it’s summer, do you?’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked. Of course I knew it was July. She said I didn’t notice that ‘people’ were gone. I thought she was referring to the lack of undergraduates and answered, ‘But it’s nice.’
No, she had meant people as in people to do things with. Again, I shook my head, because most of the people I would usually do something with were still around because they were postgraduates. She sighed. She is used to rehearsals nearly every day of the week, sometimes multiple rehearsals in a day.
Apparently I had said we would watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 last night, but I had spent the entire day pining after Abhorsen by Garth Nix that after dinner I sat on my chair and dove into my book… and didn’t move until three hours later. During this time Ros wandered around the house, practised her cello, before ending up in her chair across from mine. When I finished the book she asked, ‘Weren’t we going to watch Harry Potter tonight?’
I blinked at her, coming back a long way from Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom. I looked at her, looked at the clock that said it was now past 10 PM, and said, ‘Oh.’
She looked at me with bafflement, then asked how it was that I could spend all day reading at work to come home and read for three hours. ‘But it’s different,’ I said.
Then she asked why I looked so crestfallen. Looking down at my book I said, ‘Because it’s finished. There aren’t any more after this one.’* Although she isn’t a fantasy or science fiction fan, I tried describing the book to her, and the world Garth Nix created, how innovative and imaginative it was, and how even though there were bits of the plot I didn’t like I still very much enjoyed the trilogy.
Reading fiction is different, for me. We have determined already that I am a visual reader and she is definitely not. So when I sit down to read, everything else around me fades; is forgotten. Only a small part of my mind is aware that I am reading words, but otherwise I see and hear and experience what is happening in the story. This is how I can sit for hours on end and not realise it until after I’ve finished reading, how I can literally not hear sometimes when someone is speaking to me while I am reading. How when I read I see and hear things so vividly that occasionally scenes come back to me the same way that memories do, forcing me to pause and trace back the ‘memory’ to its source. Discussing this again with Ros last night, she observed, ‘That’s how you can come home and read the evenings.’
Yes, in part it is. But also because the stories and the worlds in the books I read are so very different from what I do during the day that I don’t even think of them as being the same type of reading. Unless I am reading a medieval romance for the first time, or reacquainting myself with it, I don’t read my work ‘for fun’ — I read it critically, contextually, finding relevant passages and relating them back to my thesis and discarding arguments that don’t. Yes, I can read Middle English ‘for fun’ — in fact, that’s what I’m planning to do with Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur — but that is only because the texts that I read are also stories. It’s more difficult to read, being in Middle English and not following modern grammatical conventions (run-on sentences galore!), but I don’t do this often. It is not quite the same as picking up a story about the Old Kingdom, or about Attolia, or Urras and Anarres — worlds that are so imaginative and different from this one.
Eventually I want to write up my thoughts about the Old Kingdom trilogy, but no promises. Simply put, I have no idea why it took me over a decade to read them. At least now I have.
* Actually, there is a novella called ‘The Creature of the Case’ that is in Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and other stories. I want it.