Sunday Salon: Reading just for pleasure

The Sunday SalonI have always read for pleasure. I was never one of those people who resented the books I had to read for school or university – I did choose to study English lit after all. But I must admit I looked forward to the time after my degree when I would be free to read whenever I wanted to.

And that is what I have aimed to do ever since – reading by whim, not feeling bad about setting aside a book I’m not enjoying, or choosing a gripping crime novel over a slower, more “literary” alternative.

Except of course, my reading wasn’t entirely free. I have some self-imposed logic behind each choice. There are books I have agreed to review, selections for book groups I attend, reading challenges I’ve signed up to. And even beyond those, the reasons for my choices are not purely pleasure. There’s also self-education – expanding my horizons, reading books I feel I ought to read and literally learning stuff – and the guilt of the TBR, that I really should read that book my Dad bought because I put it on my Amazon wishlist 10 years ago in an ambitious moment.

Reading just for pleasure is surprisingly rare for me. And it’s also hard to pin down quite what that means. Because there is a certain enjoyment in racing through an easy, pacy read, but they can be badly written and the effect is not unlike eating junk food – very tasty initially but even before you’re done you feel bloated and dissatisfied.

Of course, it is possible for a book to be both gripping and well-written. And it’s possible for a slow, literary work to be so good that I love every minute reading it. But how do you know ahead of time what will be a good read?

Arguably, we have favourite authors for just this reason, and to a lesser extent favourite publishers or imprints, or reviewers I trust to share my taste. But the best way to tell? Re-reads. If I loved it first time round and had a thoroughly good time to boot, then I most likely will next time as well.

It’s not something I do enough of. But right now, I am re-reading all of Chris Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane books. I’ve read most of them before, but not sequentially, so it’ll be interesting to follow the longer character arcs. But the main reason for this is pure fun, so I probably won’t review them and if I don’t make it to the most recent in the series in this run I won’t berate myself. They’re really enjoyable reads but they’re also very smart, funny and well-written, so they tick all the boxes for me.

What makes a genuinely-just-for-pleasure read for you?