Noise to signal

I never read books when they appear. I prefer to let them sit and marinate on a shelf for a few years before picking them up.

There is always a book of the moment. You’ll remember them all . . . Tsiolkas’ own Barracuda and The Slap, of course. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. They are the novels which everyone seem to be reading or asking if you have read yet (oh happy author). For a few months, it seems, it is everyone’s book club pick and the subject of dinner-table chatter. There are special stands in bookshops and interviews and author profiles in the weekend papers. Even the person next to you on the tram is reading it.

For me, the noise to signal ratio is too high. It’s impossible to read a book and separate my response from influence by the blizzard of others’ opinions about it. Reading is an intensely intimate, personal experience, as much today as when I was a ten year-old curled up on a sofa with the story of Black Beauty. Whatever the book, I read every page twice, fast then slow: once for the story and again for the poetry of it. We rarely pay as much close attention to another person’s words as we do to the those black marks on the page before us.

I let books marinate after I buy them, then. After a few years the noise dies down and I can read them at last, can be alone with them. And so, at last, to Damascus.