No friend as loyal as a book

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am a passionate reader. If I get any opportunity to talk about books, I will. If there’s a book I believe you need in your life I will put it in your hands. If I love a book it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m going to bang on about it until you give in and read it just to get me off your back. Nobody who really knows me will need to ask me what my favourite books are – I will have told you. So far, so much your typical book lover.

Yet in one respect I’ve always felt myself to be something of an oddity among bookworms: in my entire adult life I haven’t read a single book more than once, whereas most people I know have their favourites that they revisit time after time. I still consider the fact that I managed to make it all the way through Lord of the Rings even once to be a measure of my tenacity, and an achievement I recall not without a certain amount of pride – but it was actually loaned to me by a friend who read it at least once a year he loved it so much. Do I adore any books as ardently as he adored Tolkien’s masterpiece? Absolutely. When I think about The Secret History I still get the butterflies I felt when reading it for the first time; back then it was the only book that had ever triggered the physical reaction that comes from realising you are experiencing a near-perfect work of art. Then there’s An Instance of the Fingerpost, which blew my mind with its ingenuity and which I still hold up as being one of the cleverest novels I’ve ever read. A Suitable Boy, Middlemarch, The Meaning of Night… any of these could be my Lord of the Rings – but I’ve never gone back to them. And the reason’s very simple: as long as there are books I haven’t yet read but want to read, revisiting ones I already know seems like an unforgivable waste of precious reading time. I can’t imagine how it would feel not to have half an eye on that pristine, unread paperback perched temptingly on the shelf giving me that come hither look. Maybe I should try and relax, and allow myself to wallow in the company of an old literary friend, but in my heart of hearts I know the itch to discover the undiscovered is too strong. So it’s back to the “to be read” pile, and who knows, maybe my new favourite is right there…

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