For too long, I have allowed myself to become enslaved to my routine. I only buy certain groceries. I only browse certain authors at the library and bookshop. Even last night, when I sat down to write this post and had that first line running through my head, I very nearly gave up simply because my laptop decided to go all Skynet on me and refused to respond to my commands. I completely forgot that I actually happen to keep pen and notebooks beside my bed at all times, and for a moment thought that I would have to wait until morning after my computer had decided to get over its snit.
This habit-formed rut is especially noticeable in my choice of reading material. As I mentioned in my previous post, I love to read; I love the tangible feel of actual books in my hands and the smell of the paper as I turn each treasure-laden page. I love the flow of the written word, and the emotions it can evoke and images it can conjure with a well-phrased metaphor. I also love the depth of choice offered by ebooks, not to mention having an entire library that can fit in my handbag. However, for the longest time I have limited this purest of joys (for me, at least) by only reading my tried and trusted favourite authors. Terry Pratchett, obviously, features largely on this rather exclusive and somewhat limited list. Also Mary Stewart, JK Rowling, Dick Francis, Lee Child, Nora Roberts and JRR Tolkien (naturally). Unfortunately, that was more or less the sum total of the authors that I would even consider. My thought processes have become stagnant; calcified in the path of least resistance.
When I was in high school, I couldn’t get home until hours after school let out, as both my parents worked and no one else in my school lived close enough to me to enable a lift club. As a result of this, my sister and I spent our afternoons, when not involved in extramurals such as drama rehearsals and fruitless music lessons, at the public library one block from the campus. Ostensibly, we used the afternoons to do our homework, although my sister was always far more conscientious in that regard; whereas I did just enough to ensure a B average, she put in hours of extra research that resulted in at least four distinctions at the end of matric. What I really did with my “free” afternoons, however, was explore the offerings of the relatively well-stocked (for the East Rand in Gauteng) English fiction section of the library. In those years I read more adventurous and advanced and just plain MORE books than I have read in all the years since. At that time I would happily take a book off the shelf at random and read it merrily. I probably read material that was way innappropriate for a fourteen or fifteen year old, but I still remember those books with clarity and pure joy. Among other titles, it was at this time that I read “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco, a somewhat disturbing and deeply moving book that still affects me to this day. I’ve always identified with the character of Belbo, who wanted desperately to be a writer but lacked the talent, and so ended up being an editor instead. Somehow I always pictured that to be my path.
It was also there that I was in fact introduced to Terry Pratchett, and one of my other favourite authors, David Eddings. I read Ursula le Guin, who, I must admit, I never really got into, Anne McCaffrey, and some book about a holocaust survivor’s experiences in Auschwitz. I read Athol Fugard plays and Barbara Cartland smut (ack ack, gasp, choke, spew). As much as the cliché tells us how not to judge books, I did read just about anything with an eye-catching cover.
Anyway, the point of all this is that I have slowly, as I have aged, stopped taking chances. When I was younger, in my tweens, I think I was less afraid to take risks. Some of my experiences at that time were probably on the scary side of risky, but I was always open to something new. Now, after some personal and professional setbacks, I find myself stagnant, and my motto has become “rather safe than sorry”. I will no longer order scallops or lobster or quail at a restaurant just to see how they taste, I don’t ALWAYS take a different route when I walk somewhere, and I will no longer pick up a book at random to see if its any good. I’m not actually sure when this change, this settling, took place, but I know that it ended yesterday, when I followed a bread-crumb trail of links from my Twitter feed and ended up reading a young adult novel ebook by Sarah J. Maas entitled “Throne of Glass”. And it was GOOD, as evidenced by the fact that I started it yesterday afternoon and finished it four hours later. So now I will bravely face the pile of unknown authors and titles in my ebook collection, and give some of them a go, too. There are whole worlds that I have not seen because I allowed myself to fear new experiences. And so, like a Scalextric car bravely steering off the groove on the track, I will boldly mix metaphors no man has mixed before, and leap into the unknown. There will be gems, there will in all likelihood be quite a lot of boring dirt, but at least it will all be new. Or most of it, because let’s face it: some things you have to stick to because the classics are classics for a reason.