Oh sure, I've always had a pile of books waiting to be read. So did he. There were a few he still hadn't got to when he died. A terrible thought in one way, not to finish — or in some cases even start — every book you want to read before you die. But any book lover knows, it would be impossible. And in another way that's a good thing. How much worse it would be to run out, to have nothing more left to read! (Well yes, we compulsive readers would read cinema tickets and bus timetables if there was nothing else, but that's not quite the same.)
At present, however, the pile to be read is growing too fast, because I just can't get into many books these days. This is a very surprising thing in a lifelong bookworm like me. It's downright disconcerting. It has to be an extraordinary book to hold my interest now. I don't necessarily mean an extraordinary work of literature. 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak did, because it's one of the most beautifully written books I've ever come across; but I'm struggling with Kate Grenville's acclaimed 'Secret River'. It's not that I don't like it, it's not that the characters aren't engaging. Despite that, it's hard to care. Some fantasy novels (my favourite fictional genre) have been a bit easier, but not much. I make my way through them slowly. Once I'd have devoured them almost too fast, sorry to reach the end.
This new phenomenon has become more pronounced, the longer it is since Andrew's death. I think I've finally realised why. Reading was a thing we often used to do together. I don't mean reading the same book at the same time — though occasionally we did that too, either looking over each other's shoulders or taking it in turns to read aloud. No, I mean that we used to sit up in bed together, at either end of the day, propped against our big pillows, and read side by side our different books. It was very companionable, very cosy. Sometimes we'd share aloud some special passage; often we'd say to each other, 'You have to read this book!' (which we often did). Reading in bed now is just another occasion for missing him.
I do read in other places too — at the meal table, in waiting rooms — as always, but I don't linger. I lost an earlier great love of my life many years ago, and I learned then that keeping busy is one way to get through a bereavement. That gave me the habit; I've been a busy person ever since, always putting a bit too much on my plate. In Andrew's final years I was busier than ever before, caring for him round the clock and still trying to keep up with everything else in my life. It's not like that now; I've stopped running on the adrenaline and slowed right down. But still I use the trick of keeping occupied so as not to wallow in grief. I don't suppress it, but I don't live in it all the time, either. Sitting down to read just doesn't happen as often; if I sit down, it's more likely at the computer or iPad, where I'm doing the writing — whether that's making out my shopping list, writing a poem, or talking to people on Facebook. Or creating a blog post, as I'm doing now.
Wouldn't you think a good book would be the very thing to take me out of myself? Apparently not. Which is rather odd, as watching TV or DVDs does. I guess that the act of reading allows the mind to wander too much — to go off on a trail of association, and suddenly come bang up against the grief once more. On screen, the action keeps on going and you have to stay with it. Yes, it has emotional effects, but then it and I move on.