Mapping My Books and The Sense of an Ending
by Charlotte Reads Classics
I have favourite places to read. I organise my bookshelves. I make maps of books in my head.
This morning I read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. I loved the book and it gave me a reading experience I had almost forgotten about. I read it in bed whilst it got lighter outside, I sat on the edge of the bath reading waiting for the shower to heat up, I read it with one hand whilst eating breakfast, and I kept my boyfriend waiting to leave the house for ten minutes while I read the last few pages.
When I read, mostly I’m thinking about my grand literature* map. For the last few years, each book I read fits into the map of the ones I have already read, making a catalogue of writers, time periods, characters. A compendium of links and connections that I spend most of my time thinking about. For example, when I recently read David Lodge’s A Man of Parts I was inserting it into what I knew from reading about writers. The book also mentions Henry James so I was also thinking about his novels. I was also fitting it into what I have read about the Edwardians, and the First World War.
The mapping doesn’t stop there: It also influences what I read next. For the most part, I feel a compulsive need to own all of the books I read. If I borrow a book and enjoy it, I then go and buy my own copy. I buy books when they seem interesting, which means I have a ridiculous number of books that I haven’t got around to reading yet. I think maybe two or three years worth! The plus side of this, is that should my reading take an unexpected turn, I usually have a book to hand to accommodate it.
On the down side, I get quite distracted whilst reading because I’m thinking about the next book on the map. I like creating these reading lists…
- The Sense of an Ending = Julian Barnes. The next logical step: More Julian Barnes.
- Flaubert’s Parrot = Already own, unread. Next: More books about France by an English writer.
- Pure, by Andrew Miller = Books about Paris in particular.
- The Guermantes Way = the next in my very slow ongoing reading of Proust. More Paris!
- Paris Without End = non fictional version of The Paris Wife. More fictional autobiographies.
- Author, Author by David Lodge. A fictional biography of Henry James. You see where this is going.
But enough of reading in general. Reading The Sense of an Ending reminded me of reading without this ridiculous distracting onslaught of mapping. I was completely immersed. I know these people so well. (My GOD Julian Barnes knows characterisation.) It was a perfect little read: Not worthy like some Booker Prize winners, not fluff. Weighty, memorable, worth reading aloud. No wasted words, not too much plot… Focused.
* As I will have hopefully demonstrated, the term grand literature refers to the sheer volume of books I plan to fit into the map rather than any definition of literature itself, or classics.