I have always been an avid reader. Obsessively so, some - mainly my mother - may suggest. Growing up, our shelves were always filled with books. Admittedly, they were a diverse collection of mainly superficially gratifying, 'trashy' reads. I would devour everything with gusto and my insatiable appetite for reading knew no bounds: no biography, autobiography, Mills and Boon, Sweet Valley High, thriller, chick-lit book was safe in my presence. The sheer escapism one can achieve through beautifully-strung words, the emotions, images and lifestyles one can experience simply by suspending disbelief and completely immersing yourself within the pages of a book is like nothing else. My love of books was encouraged by mom. Indeed, how fantastic for a single mother to be able to keep a child entertained with a weekly (free) trip to the local library. Sure, it was great taking a turn on one of the three desktop computers to play PacMan and yes, we were able to scour the weekly Smash Hits magazine ordered in by the library to learn the latest song lyrics so that we could record ourselves singing when we got home. For me, however, the greatest pleasure lay in the hundreds of book sleeves that held as-yet-unknown treasures. Where I could learn all about the Bermuda Triangle, where I could bathe in the teen angst associated with life as a blond-haired, size 6 American, where I could determine my destiny in a 'Choose your own adventure'. Reading was -and still is to some extent - my Utopia.
As an adult, my reading tastes have (thankfully) changed over the years. Through my 'evolution' I've gone through many phases: the middle-of-the-road chick-lits; the hard-hitting and emotional autobiographies with the requisite 'overcoming adversity' themes; crime thrillers; psychological thrillers, blah, blah. Throughout my literary journey I have never lost my fundamental passion for reading. This has remained my constant companion. My groaning shelves and stuffed-to-the-hilt boxes are testament to this. I bet, if taken at cover value, my collection would be worth much more than me, even with the annual donations to charity shops. No Kindle for this chick - for me, there is nothing like the physical weight of the next journey, reading the blurb, making a selection. Then, if you're lucky enough to find two you want to read, making the most of the '2 for £7' deals that supermarkets usually offer. Yep, I can hear you sneering - supermarket? Top ten? Best-sellers? Just when you thought I was a 'real' book-geek. Well, more fool you, book-snob. I am an equal-opportunities reader. I will read anything and everything that I like the look of that also happens to be conveniently accessible. I'm not precious about reading certain genres only, nor am I purely dedicated to certain authors (though I may have a couple of favourites). Like I said, equal opportunities - if it is in my line-sight, on a deal, available to purchase with the weekly shop, I'm there. Additionally, I have no interest in the author. I've been known to reject books where the author has 'helpfully' put a picture of themselves in the sleeve with a biog. in all honesty, to me, this risks turning me off. The story is in the words and my interpretation of them. I don't want my experience tainted or unduly influenced by the person clever enough to craft the book.
So, imagine my reaction when asked by someone close, "why do you not seem to read many Black authors?" I'd like to say I retorted with a breezy, humorous, witty comment. In truth, I'd be lying. Indignant? Defensive? Moi? Why indeed? I've never made any conscious effort to actively seek out Black authors. Sure, I love Dorothy Koomson's books, I adore the vivid and intricately-woven tales by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. That said, I've never deliberately pursued the works of authors who happen to be black. As I said, I read for pleasure, for escape, I read anything that happens to be in the book section. It's not my fault that there aren't more Black authors when I've selected my 2-for-£7 in the book charts section! "Exactly" was the self-righteous reply. Or was it self-righteous? Is it right that, as in too many areas of British life, Black people are under or mis-represented? How many more of our authors would have centre-stage in the Top Ten or receive the Book of the Week accolade if more of us, as powerful consumers, exercised our pound power? Whilst I have no intention of turning one of my few indulgent pleasures in life into a political statement, on reflection, should I adapt my habits and become more 'conscious'?
I've decided that my answer, my truth is 'yes'. So, I am about to embark on a new journey. A journey where I delve into the back of the bookshop, or, if need be, online. I am going to seek and find books that represent our reality, our perspective. I will be posting reviews and comments based on what I have read. I would be grateful for suggestions and sign-posts, but remember I am brutally honest - if I like it, I'll say, if I love it, I'll say, if I hate it, I'll say. Wish me luck!
This month I'm reading Small Island by Andrea Levy