Joy of books

Andy Garland

Andy Garland - Credit: Archant

Radio Kent broadcaster and producer Andy Garland on the joys of reading and what makes us give up sleep for just a few more pages

Waffle waitress: “What’ choo you reading for?”

Customer: “Hmm, first time I’ve been asked that question, not what am I reading? But what am I reading for? I dunno, you got me...I guess I read for a lot of reasons, the main one being so I don’t end up being a [expletive deleted] waffle waitress.”

The late US comedian Bill Hicks in full-on rant mode about the perils of being perceived an intellectual in America’s deep south. But the question posed does bear further examination. Why do we read? To be entertained? To relax? To better understand the human condition? All of the above? None of the above?

I can barely remember a time when I did not read, early on, propped up by the pillows it would have been Whizzer and Chips. Reading for laughs perhaps?

Shortly to be followed by that familiar canon of children’s literature, Blyton, Dahl, Tolkien and by 15 upsetting my fearsome English teacher.

“Garland. What was the last great book you read?

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“There’s a hippie on the highway, miss.”

“I don’t think so – try again.”

“1984 miss?”

“Very well...let us continue...”

It’s indicative of how powerful a tale Orwell weaves, considering that to a hormonal teenage boy, the attractions of the hardboiled crime capers written by James Hadley-Chase (whom I recently learnt was educated at Kings in Rochester) probably lay more in the scantily clad women who bedecked his front covers.

A triumph of the sciences over the arts at A-level meant a complete bypass of the well-thumbed works that line the shelves of the present Mrs Garland. A veritable who’s-who of English literature: Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte, Austen.

On mine the slightly more lowbrow tomes of King, Koontz, Herbert, C. Clarke, Gibson and K. Dick give a flavour of the genres into which I regularly fall.

I read and read and read, but the ‘why’ still evades me. Reading can trump even a desire for precious sleep. That compulsion of being simultaneously drawn into the plot and into the quiet hours of darkness when all around are slumbering; but the imagined reality of remote Gothic castle, intergalactic starship, derelict factory or crinoline is just too stimulating to resist.

Just a few more pages, maybe just one more chapter, or I’ll just see how this turns out are the enjoyable precursors of the inevitable weary day ahead.

Conversely, fatigue can also wreck this most pleasurable of activities. At present I’m in the trenches in the company of Christopher Tietjens ploughing my way through the intricacies of Ford Madox-Ford’s Parade’s End. The complex text demands the concentration afforded by a long train journey, or an early night.

The infrequency of both has meant being restricted to a few nodding pages of unproductive bedtime snoozing.

At BBC Radio Kent we’re experimenting with the pleasure of consuming fiction for review in the public space. Reading as radio critic, if you like.

Following in the footsteps of Oprah and Richard and Judy, my erudite colleague Julia George has launched a book club, tapping into a growing trend that academics like to call a mass reading event.

So far listeners across Kent have had the opportunity to discuss The Sunrise with Kent author Victoria Hislop, debate the many merits of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and discuss the controversial teen novel The Bunker Diaries. This month it’s children’s fiction and then, who knows?

As a reader it is risky to sample the unknown but what a pleasure it’s been thus far. To join in, email julia@bbc.co.uk.

For me I’ve added reading for work to my list, although sadly not on work time. n

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