A number of us were greeted today by the sad news of the author, Iain Banks’s illness.
The thing that caught in the throat the most was not that he was ill and only had ‘several months’ to live – it was the matter of fact way he, through ‘ghoulish humour’, informed the world. As a writer, words are his tools. However, to try to find the right words – at the wrong time – must take class, courage and ability, beyond anything I could comprehend, to engage with his readers; in the same way he did through his books.
The other thing his personal statement brought home was how little fiction and hard copy books I now actually read. I had previously devoured everything Banks had released (under his non-sci-fi guise) up until The Business in 1999. Banks didn’t stop being a greater writer with that book; I stopped being a big reader. There are a number of reasons for this. You can blame the internet, you can suggest I just fell out of love with fiction, you can accuse me of watching too much television – or you can look to the most obvious reason. I no longer commute. In 1999 I moved to Glasgow, got a job I could walk to and simply stopped reading.
I like to read when moving – distance or even, dare I say it, bowels. I always had a book in my work bag or a set of magazines by the toilet. My copies of The Blizzard have still found a home in that room of the house, but the work bag no longer exists. I don’t take lunch; I have no need to occupy myself on the walk in.
Travel reading replaced the commuting read. If Amy and I went away for a couple of days I would take at least three books with me. One for the flight out, one for the duration of the stay and a third – in case I needed something to read on the way home. Now with two children to occupy, one each, taken in turns, the opportunity to read – to have my own time – looks limited at best. As it should be for Father’s of the year.
So now I read in short bursts. I use twitter to snuffle out links to stories, articles or longer reads. Reads that can be managed on foot, at a desk, in the pub – on the toilet. I can’t remember the last book I bought; the last book I wanted to buy. I often wonder, with an iPad at home or even buying a smaller kindle, whether I would read more? The fact it is always to hand, storing, more than one at a time, might get my fiction bug back. I always stop myself for fear of having a £100 paper weight, always out of charge – never where I actually want it. It’s the sensible approach.
I have read a lot of people claim that they will go back to Banks’s books and read them again. Books like The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road or Complicity. I read each of those twice – which was rare for me. I like to read and then give books away; never really interested in trying to find additional information the second time around. I will however look at his books I haven’t read. Maybe there is a gem there that will make me want to read it, without pause, from cover to cover.
Just like he used to.