Books and me: on my shelves

Events officer at Hampshire Libraries, Jeremy Cole, talks about sci-fi, the human condition, and challenging our reading habits.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

My perfect reading spot would probably be in a park on a sunny day, but it really depends on the context of what I’m reading. When I’m reading a fiction book with lots of world-building, I like to be fully absorbed in it so I read at home where I can immerse myself in that world. I love to listent to non-fiction audiobooks too, particularly on the train. However, I have done a nine-hour train journey to Cornwall and − even though I loved the book I was listening to − I got to a point where I was absolutely saturated with listening. I had to switch to music the rest of the way, which for me is an equally good way to pass the time.

But if I’m in the throes of a new book, I really will read wherever I can. Especially if there’s a strong narrator in the story, I want to stay with the characters and keep the world fresh in my mind.

How do you read?

I listen to a lot of non-fiction audiobooks on BorrowBox, but when it comes to fiction the narrator can be a huge deal breaker for me. It needs to be the right reader. Comedy books are perfect for that. I loved listening to Alan Partridge read his own autobiographies, particularly We Need to Talk About Alan and Nomad. The problem with this is you end up laughing to yourself in public.

In terms of speed, I have to admit that I have been a plodder in more recent years. I’m a completionist, so I’ll keep going even if I’m not hugely loving it. A few books have taken me a really long time to read because of that. With non-fiction though, I’ll dip in and out because the chapters can often read fine in isolation.

What are you reading at the moment?

Recently I’ve started reading a book series some people might have heard of. It’s about a boy called Harry Potter. I remember first becoming aware of it when I was studying my A-levels. My English teacher tried to get it added to the syllabus, but she said she was laughed out of the office.

I resisted getting involved until quite recently. When I was at university, I remember seeing people going to the cinema dressed up with their wands, I was thinking “this is nonsense I don’t want any part of this”. But I was won over by the movies and the magical universe it depicted. I wanted to know more about the characters and universe in depth, I love world-building in books.

With non-fiction, I’ve recently been reading Jon Ronson. I’m reading Them at the moment, but I started with The Psychopath Test. After watching a true crime series on TV, I had this sort of naïve curiosity about what people were capable of. Jon Ronson has this brilliant ability to weave a narrative out of his experiences. He almost makes himself the main character as he meets people with vastly different outlooks on the world.

Reading Patterns

Sci-fi has always been a big part of my reading. The characters are bumbling, ordinary, and relatable. They often just want to clock off work early, but they’re thrown into these extraordinary situations. I think reading about a fantasy world through characters like that can be a brilliant way to learn about the difficult issues in our own world.

The library is an amazing place to work though, you don’t need to go looking for recommendations when they’re all around you. Books will just pass between your hands and something interesting will catch your eye. It’s a great way to discover something to read naturally.

First love, best loves

Probably much younger than I should have been, I started watching Red Dwarf which led me to the novelisations. They were surprisingly good with fleshed out characters and as a thirteen-year-old they made for great reads. From there I fell into Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I had this chunky collection of all the novels in one book which I read over and over. I loved that dead-pan humour about the human condition, that idea of being a part of something huge that you don’t really understand.

At uni, I had a friend who was a big movie buff and we had this sort of cultural exchange. Music was my huge burning passion, and he grew up with movies as his. I had mainly watched comedies up until then, but he insisted I watch Blade Runner. I ended up reading the book it was based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick since.  I loved the film and I think it was brilliant in that it took a small slice of the book and just let you sit in that. But the book had all these other elements in it about the character’s personal life and addiction to mood-determining technology.

Another big part of my reading has been music biographies. As an amateur musician who has played in a few bands, I love to read about the background of the people in bands and the stories that shaped their songs. The reality that those three famous songs from The Smiths were all written by a 22-year-old in one afternoon was incredible to read about. Songs That Saved Your Life and Revolution in the Head are more about the personalities and the culture that gave birth to the songs. I’ve recorded and written music, but I don’t know music theory really. I admire music theorists, but it isn’t the way I look at music. I like to think I’m a logical person but with music, I love that it can be instinctive.

Overlooked delights

Recently I’ve been thinking about books that maybe I have overlooked. I would describe myself as a feminist but looking back I can see that a lot of my favourite authors were men, and that many of the characters were men as well. I think reading is about exploring the human experience and it would be a shame to keep that so close to home. I’ve started with The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin but I really want to challenge myself to read wider.

As Events Officer at Hampshire Library Service, Jeremy develops exciting programmes of events for the public. Jeremy was talking with Isaac Fravashi.