I grew up in a house in which very few books were owned, but many were borrowed. My Nana and my Mum were both great readers and library goers (Mum still is), and I followed suit. Nevertheless, it was always my ambition to own books, and as soon as I got a Saturday job in a hairdressers at the age of 13, I started buying, rather than borrowing. I can still remember the sheer joy when the books on the shelf on which I had started by keeping books at each end actually met up in the middle.
It was at this point, aged 13, that I borrowed a paperback from an older second cousin who was at university, and was extremely impressed by his sophisticated habit of writing his name plus the date and place of acquisition on the front page. I adopted the practice immediately, and did the same for years until I started buying books online and realised that it was now pretty much redundant. So it's now fascinating to trace my reading over the pre-Amazon years - actual and apsirational - and to try to remember why I had been buying in bookshops (mostly secondhand) in places like Uppingham, Skipton, and Leamington Spa.
I thought about the title for this post (borrowed from Keats) before I started reading Virginia Woolf's novels for the first time last week, then saw that I've actually had quite a few 'first looks' into Woolf's novels. Just before leaving for Aldeburgh I collected some books to take and was slightly astonished to discover just how many times I have decided it was high time I read some of VW's novels instead of her letters, essays, and brilliant diaries. Yes, I'd read A Writer's Diary (recently reprinted by Persephone Books) and Flush, and numerous books about her and the Bloomsbury group, but still I'd skirted round the major novels.
To be honest, I'd also read Mrs Dalloway and listened to the audiobook of To the Lighthouse read in beautiful and modulated tones by Eileen Atkins (despite owning four copies of the novel). But I'd never read VW creatively*, never really slowed down to VW's pace, or emptied my reading mind and let the words wash over me. Instead, I was always too keen to put VW on my of have-reads list when in fact she belongs on a have-experienced-and-thought-about list.
So it was high time I looked intoWoolf's novels for the first time - properly.
By coincidence, I started reading Francine Prose's book last week and, without my glasses on, mis-read the opening sentence of 'Can creative writing be taught?' as 'Can creative reading be taught? which I think is a better question, and something really worth talking about.