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…

  1. The Sense of an Ending = Julian Barnes. The next logical step: More Julian Barnes.
  2. Flaubert’s Parrot = Already own, unread. Next: More books about France by an English writer.
  3. Pure, by Andrew Miller = Books about Paris in particular.
  4. The Guermantes Way = the next in my very slow ongoing reading of Proust. More Paris!
  5. Paris Without End = non fictional version of The Paris Wife. More fictional autobiographies.
  6. Author, Author by David Lodge. A fictional biography of Henry James. You see where this is going.
And this could continue for quite a while. I’m not saying this is a concrete list of what I will be reading for the next month or so, because the map is never set in stone. If I change my mind about what to read next, I’ll just go for it and what I read will go off in a completely different direction.

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.