(Just in case you’re confused, I’m referring to reading as in as in the thing you do with books, not Reading, as in the commuter town in Berkshire). Okay, let’s begin:
Reading is a solitary activity. Look at you, you’re reading now! You’re all alone in your brain and you’re experiencing pleasure through your eye balls by decoding words from a screen! Only the truly boring want to do reading as a social activity (joining a ‘book club’ sounds like something that could only ever be fun if the books were abandoned, the crashing bores – otherwise known as ‘serious readers’ – were ejected, and it became an excuse for wild, depraved partying – with wine).
I’m going to go as far as to say that reading is the best solitary activity there is (and yes, I know about masturbation).
Reading has literally everything: you can read funny stuff online; or sad stories in heavy hardback books with tattered dust jackets. You can read poems that rhyme, and poems that don’t rhyme but still have a rhythm; comic strips; seminal tomes outlining seismic philosophical shifts in the way we understand the world (see Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, or Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble); magazines that cost 65p and have articles about ladies who have fingernails growing inside cysts on their ovaries (see Take and Break or Pick Me Up).
Reading is such a good solo activity that it’s actually better than most stuff you can do with other people. I’ve never been to a party where I haven’t, at some point, day-dreamed about being at home, tucked up in bed with a hot milk, reading Irvine Welsh’s Porno for the ninth time (if you’re a bit dark and dirty, there’s moments in that that let you do reading and masturbation at the same time, hurrah!). I’d like to offer an apology to my friends for all the times that I’ve left parties and nightclubs early/locked myself in the toilet/guest bedroom to finish a novel (sorry everyone at New Year’s Eve, Clapham, 2009 – but Juliet, Naked was more riveting than your company). When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out, I ignored everyone at the fabulous barbeque with the free booze at the rich Scottish boy’s daddy’s mansion. Avoiding the sun and all human contact, I sat in a shaded corner on a hard wooden chair for the entire afternoon, with my head between the pages of the book I had queued all morning to buy.
Celebrate! For being single means that you’ve now got LOADS of time for reading. You can make a little cocoon in your flat with blankets and poetry and novels. You can buy sandalwood scented tea lights from Wilkinson’s and light them. You can sit in your candle-lit cocoon and turn the softly textured pages of The World According to Garp, or stroke the screen of your kindle, with your fingers. You actually never have to go anywhere, or do anything ever again – apart from work, and occasionally visiting Waterstone’s/Wilkos, and calling your parents to let them know you haven’t died.
Of course, you can do reading when you’re in a couple. But it’s just not as good. When you’ve got a lover, at any point in the day, it’s possible that the lover might want to interrupt your reading mid-sentence. And because you can’t tell the person you love that the problem/proposition they are about to put to you is definitely going to be less important than this book/copy of Pick Me Up, you have to stop what you’re doing, and give him your attention.
Of course, if you’re committed to the concept of a relationship, I’m sure there are ways of making it work. But like everything that includes putting someone else’s needs before your own: it’s a faff. My most recent long term boyfriend and I came to a compromise that we called ‘Naked Reading’. The deal was this: he liked seeing me with no clothes on, and I liked staring at words in books in silence. If I would do reading wearing only my skin, he would sit and look and not interrupt me with questions about my fidelity. It didn’t really work. The reason he liked seeing me naked was because it…erm… aroused him. And when he was…aroused…he wanted to –er – ‘touch’ me. ‘ Touching’ me distracted me from reading. It was most unsatisfactory. No wonder it didn’t last.
Right now though, well – as soon as I stop typing these words and press ‘publish’ – I will pick a book from my book shelf. What rich choices it holds – but perhaps, for nostalgia, I will choose Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Yes, I will pluck The Witches from my book shelf and I will turn my phone onto silent and I will retire to my bedroom and I will read it all before I fall asleep. No one will interrupt. No-one will try to touch me and cajole me into having fatigued, obligatory, let’s-guess-who’s-going-to-fall-asleep-half-way-through, Monday night sex. It’ll be just me and the scary bit about the little girl who gets trapped in the painting and slowly disappears.
As a final word of warning, I will say this: if you are after having a fulfilling, well-rounded life, then you are going to have to put the books down/turn the computer off occasionally and talk to other people. But, happily, not for long. Morrisey (another committed singleton) puts it better than I ever could, ‘there’s more to life than books you know,’ he says, ‘but not much more.’