Do you have someone in your family who, when you are absorbed in a book, waves their great hairy hand in front of your eyes and shouts: Wake up! Ha ha, he/she was away with the fairies”?

Or maybe you have someone who suggests to you that you might be doing something more constructive with your life – such as loading the dishwasher, planting trillions of daffodil bulbs on the rockery in the back garden or attending every single Manchester United football match and buying a stripy shirt for an extortionate amount of money in order to demonstrate your allegiance to your beloved team?

Retire to a point fractionally beyond the radar of the hairy-handed numbskull, the frantic dishwasher-loader.

Pick up your book again.

And, by the way:

  • there is no rule that you must read one book at a time. There is so much else to read. Reading more than one book at a time will not give you indigestion, strain your eyes, fry your brain or anything else unpleasant.
  • there is no rule that you must finish a book once you have started it. If you’ve been stuck on page 23 for the last six months and hate the thing, pass it on to somebody else or give it to the charity shop. This I’ve started so I’ll finish thinking arose, I’m fairly sure, from a wartime economy culture, or even earlier, from Victorian frugality.
  • there is no rule that you must only read good books. Reading anything is ten times better than reading nothing, and all reading connects up at some mysterious, deeper level anyway. You don’t stumble across things by accident; you are drawn to them – even if they do only appear to be Cornflakes packets or your aunt’s cast off romance mag.

You will find, however, that the more you read the more discerning you tend to become. The more good stuff you are drawn to or stumble across the less satisfying and readable the bad stuff becomes. You don’t have to make heroic efforts to read the ‘right’ stuff, it will just sort of happen if you keep on reading.

Literature is a vast subject. However long you live you will not succeed in reading all the books you wanted and needed to read – so best get started now. There’s an ocean of books out there and it’s waiting for you – so push your little boat out and hoist the sail.

I so envy you, if you are young, the time you will have to make that voyage. No matter what life throws at you – and it will throw some stuff, believe me – in books you have at least one escape route from the dailiness of life.

What a girl called “the dailiness of life” / (Adding an errand to your errand. Saying, / “Since you’re up . . .” Making you a means to / A means to a means to) is well water / Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world. / The pump you pump the water from is rusty / And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel / A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny / Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes / The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty / Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear / Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands / And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

Well Water: Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

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