BLOG Kathryn Gray


Simon Harris on The Art of Finishing

It's something of an embarrassing admission, but I can't remember the last time I actually finished reading a book.

As reading is a more or less constant activity for me, there is always something on my 'to read' list. Aside from the plays and other work-in-progress I am asked to read, there is always an array of new material jostling for my attention.

Firstly, there are all the published plays that I feel I should keep up to speed with. Without being able to visit all the new writing theatres, a published text is generally the next best thing, so I keep a ready supply of recently published work to hand. Robert Holman is my current victim.

Additionally, there is a burgeoning range of assorted theoretical and practice-based theatre books. Routledge and Nick Hern seem to be leading the field in this, offering the interested reader a goldmine of insight and access that at one time would have been beyond reach. This is not so bad, I would argue, as I juggle these on a constant basis and constantly cherry-pick ideas that will be useful for my work.

Beyond that, there is a range of non-fiction writing that I feel I should read for one reason or another. This can range from historical writing - for example, reading up on the French Revolution seemed to be something I simply had to do recently, although it doesn't seem quite as necessary now - or reading semi-philosophical writing that challenges my preconceptions. On that score, I can partially recommend Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom; I say partially, as I haven't actually finished it yet.

These days novels are a lesser priority for me, but contemporary American fiction still attracts my attention. It may take a while, but I can usually get to the end of a Phillip Roth or a Saul Bellow. Eventually.

Richard Ford's The Sportswriter was a book I did recently finish.

However, superb as it was, it hung around so long that I had to re-read long sections I had forgotten about in order to make sense of where I was supposed to be starting from. When that became interrupted also, I was temporarily lost in a fog of déjà vu (or maybe that should be déjà lu).

Then there are the guilty pleasures. For me that involves the graphic novel. When I was young, comics were not particularly welcome in our house, as it wasn't considered proper reading. Pocket money was usually deployed on this surreptitious pursuit and the result was an abiding love of Herge's Tintin books. However, it's taken until quite recently for me to accept that reading Frank Miller and Alan Moore was okay. That said, the pictures are really quite handy for short bursts.

The net result of all this is that I now have a churn of about seven or eight books that are in a sad limbo, waiting perpetually to be finished. One of them - David Mitchell's rather brilliant number9dream - is probably destined to remain unread. I have semi-abandoned it at the second chapter. Having read Mitchell's Ghostwritten about ten years ago, I know it's absolutely necessary to stick with it, which, of course, I haven't. But there is always hope that I will return to it one day, whereas that will never be true of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's classic - One Hundred Days of Solitude. I will never forget the look on a friend's face when I said that I'd given up on it about eighty pages from the end.

I felt like a criminal, as opposed to the restlessly curious junkie that I am.


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