He’s back! Dr Hulls shares some thoughts on reading for pleasure…
There is one serious limitation to becoming a father. I can stand the sleepless nights and, horrible though they are, the endless nappy changes. I have learned to divide my waking hours into strictly regimented three-hour slots. I have even, grudgingly, been able to tolerate singing endless songs about wheels on buses and ducks not drinking lemonade. The problem is that I can’t read any more.
This came up in discussion in the pub the other night; a friend who has, like me, become a father in the last year started talking about the enormous stack of books that has accumulated since the birth of his son. I have had the same problem.
I remember that, on the day before my son was born, I sat in the hospital and read two novels cover to cover (birth shares many characteristics with war, one being that there is a long and boring bit before the terrifying stuff begins). Since you ask: a James Ellroy (LA Confidential?) and David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero – both excellent preparations for fatherhood. On our return home, I picked up Gore Vidal’s Empire (I’ve been working my way through the series steadily for a while. They’re great – you should read them – especially Lincoln). It’s a chunky book, about 600 pages. In the next six months I managed about 200 of them.
Sure, I read other things. I read lots of Mr Men books, books about tigers and little blue trucks and surprisingly spacious brooms and gruffalos. I read the side of formula packets and books about baby-led weaning. But these didn’t really give me the hit I was looking for. I tend to ignore the Callimachean maxim of mega biblon, mega kakon (‘A big book is a great evil’) and go for thicker tomes. My tastes are parochial – I rarely deviate from historical fiction, straight history, natural history or literary criticism. Currently, I am enjoying Bettany Hughes’s breeze block-sized history of Istanbul (new to your library and well worth the effort). I need time to read!
My God, I missed the sheer, self-indulgent pleasure of being able to sit quietly for most of the day with a good book or two. In the heat wave of the last week, I really can’t think of anything I’d rather have done than gasp in the shade with a stack of books, occasionally disappearing to the fridge for refreshment and to the pub when the sun goes down, day after day after day. I still don’t really get to read at home very much. I desperately miss that opportunity to read in bed at night. Instead, I try and find excuses to go on long and boring train rides on my own, just so I can read a good book.