Missing stories 

I have just turned the TV and quit Twitter for the evening, possibly the foreseeable future. I now realise that once again, the news cycle has worked its magic and rendered me into a state of near nervous exhaustion.

There is a lot to be said for non-fiction, but at times it can get a bit too much. I can remember the day it entered my life. I was working in a bookshop – a non-fiction bookshop – and a man came in looking for something to read on the plane. He explained that he flew a lot because he worked as an investigator of air traffic accidents (that is non-fiction but you could not make it up).

He no longer read fiction, he said, because there was a limit to the number of stories that could be told – ah that old chestnut – there are only two stories: A man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town – I just had to google who said that. I thought it may have been Brecht but the first page of results favours Tolstoy – although some results are claiming it has many attributions. Loads of different stories about who said something and not a journey or a town visit among them.

Anyway, back to the man. He said that the world of non fiction was so infinite he could always find something interesting to read, which would engage him more than fiction. Fair enough, I thought and even thought back to the time when I burst into tears on a school visit to the science museum because I suddenly realised that no matter how hard I studied, I would never be able to know everything which I had kind of assumed was the goal. What a hideous child I was. In my defence, I may not have burst into tears, I may have just looked a bit glum and was asked what was wrong by the teacher. I am very good at looking glum even as omniscience evades me and adding bits of narrative flourish to make memories more dramatic.

I guess from that conversation, I tried to include a bit of non fiction in my life but recently it has taken over and throttled fiction like bindweed. Reading, even for someone who enjoys it, it a habit that must be practised and nurtured and I have found that as my consumption of online reading has grown, my ability to sink myself into a piece of fiction has diminished.

I miss reading stories. I miss disappearing like Alice down the rabbit hole of a plot. I miss getting close to the end of a book and feeling the pinch of anxiety as I become torn between finishing a story and not wanting the experience of being in its world to stop. That has not happened in a while. I think I started to read less when I first started wearing glasses and found that my eyes were getting tired and blurring. Non fiction is easier to put down (diaries, for example) and so my habits have drifted, and my consumption has become broken into smaller chunks, but I long for a juicy story to sink my teeth into.

I think I will make a concerted effort, though. Yesterday, Britain wrote to the EU to signal its intention to leave and the braying voice of Nigel Farage with his chinless preening face is now penetrating Australian airwaves like the pernicious little virus of hatred that he is. My Twitter timeline is full of Brexit or Trump and frankly reality is not much fun at the moment. Turning off the TV and staying off Twitter is probably the best thing I have done in a while and though I have the delightful diaries of Alan Bennett to finish and a book that goes by the rather alarming title of How We Die to also get to the end of, there are plenty of novels lying on my shelves in the library and stacked by my bed to amuse me. Because the good news (as opposed to the depressing news on TV) is that I may have stopped reading for a while, but I never stopped buying books I intended to read, which is also news, but good news so I will take it.


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