What is Juliet reading now?

Actually, it’s sad-facemore a case of – is Juliet reading now?

Whenever a parent says, ‘Little [insert name, usually a boy’s] won’t read anything!’, they mean that they never see them engrossed in a story.

A teacher’s stock answer is: ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s the back of a cereal packet, or a newspaper article – as long as they are reading something.’

At the moment I feel like one of those young children.

This is a typical day’s reading for me:

  1. Several lists (like this one).
  2. Ingredients on a ready-meal packet, just in case the manufacturer has listed ‘HORSE’ in a fit of transparency.
  3. Free commuter newspapers – Metro, Evening Standard.
  4. Emails, contracts, policies, reports, minutes – in many jobs, the sheer volume of required reading has made the concept of ‘Monday to Friday, 9 to 5’ redundant.

It’s like being on a particularly unpleasant diet. Recently, the nearest I’ve got to the land of make-believe (although some of the business reports I read are pure fiction) is the weighty Miranda Hart autobiography Is It Just Me? that’s been languishing at my bedside since Christmas. (I was using ‘weighty’ to describe the autobiography, by the way, not Miranda herself.)

Like most diets, it doesn’t feed the soul; whereas a novel …


‘… there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.’

Those are the words of Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, surely the most passionate and amusing defence of the novel ever written. And that is why I return time and again to Austen – her ‘genius, wit, and taste’ feed my soul.

How do you feed yours?