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I am a book bigamist

Posted on 8th June 2015 by Jonathan O'Brien
A confession

I can feel it at all times, you know. The constant knowledge of my unfaithfulness. No matter what I’m doing, it’s there. Whenever I see a couple reading together in the park or I browse a friend’s bookshelf and see her books sitting happily with her partner’s. There is no respite from it. It is always there, waiting under the surface like a shark hoping that its fin won't give too much away.

I have a confession. I am a book bigamist.

I wish I could just read one book at a time but it’s never quite enough. I get halfway through and, before I know it, I’m looking over at the bookshelf or browsing through other covers online. I see strangers reading in public and am overcome with jealousy. ‘That book looks good,’ I think. ‘I must have it. It must be mine.' I go to bookshops and browse the shelves, completely forgetting my commitments to the novel I am already reading.

I can’t help it. I try to be a better reader, to dedicate myself solely to just one title but my mind always wavers. I jump from story to story. It’s not just fiction, either. Non-fiction of all kinds have made their way into my affections. Science, history, sport, none of them manage to keep me for long.

It used to just be two books at any given moment but over time their number grew. I once had ten books on the go, all of them receiving the briefest moments of my attention when they deserved so much more. I would read one and find myself thinking of another. I was reading them, yes, but I wasn’t fully there. I was seduced by the idea of other plots and characters. I would put the book down, disappear to bed with another title and read until I fell asleep with it in my arms.

Every now and again a book manages to break my habits. A book so enthralling that I think of no other. For a few days it is the only book in existence, the book I want to spend all my time with. Then I finish it. It lingers in my brain and for a day or two I read nothing else, unsure of whether any book can ever be as good. But it's no use. I am soon back to my previous ways.

I used to keep them separate. One book would come with me to work while the others would stay at home. Soon having one book with me wasn’t enough. I started putting two in my bag, then three. I started to keep books in piles next to my bed. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty. All of them waiting for the time I could never give them.

Then, one day, when I found myself once again halfway through a book and casually throwing glances at my own shelves, I decided to stop. I turned my back on the books that had been tempting me and finished the one I was reading. It felt good. I liked the satisfaction of not giving in to the distractions and promises of another book.

So, you see, I was once a book bigamist. Nowadays I am proud to say that I am a one book man. The book by my bed is the same as the one in my bag. It travels with me on every bus and train journey. We go everywhere together. Until it’s finished, that is. Then I put it on the shelves, file it in my memory and move straight onto the next one. I am a more attentive reader now, it's true, but I am still a fickle one.

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