COLM O'REGAN: Where does the time go when you're lost in a good book?

It hadn’t happened in ages. By ages, I mean years. I looked up and there was the time, and it gone. And I don’t know where it had gone.

I was stuck in a book. And by stuck, I mean wedged. Trapped. I needed to get to the end of it. I wolfed it down. It was a page-turner. Not literally, it wasn’t enchanted but I had no awareness of the pages turning. It was the type of book with the author’s name in huge print on the top of cover and the hard-hitting title on the bottom of cover. Usually on these ones there is a fuzzy photo of a bridge or a woman running into the woods. These are the books bought in the last newsagent before the departure gate, next to the Double Deckers and the final temptation to get a neck pillow that may ultimately disappoint.

I couldn’t read it fast enough. 390 pages in two days. Time grabbed on a train, in bed, on the... er … facilities. Once that body turned up I was hooked. (I mean in the book, not in my own life. I’ve got nothing to hide. Excuse me, I need to make a phone call.)

Something was happening all the time. There were some small tangents but not too long distract me from “goddamnit who was the mysterious man with the limp and why was he stalking the hero”.

I skipped over some details on the bougainvillea bushes lining the edge of the park or the precise firing mechanism of a Smith and Wesson. I needed to see who hiding in the bushes and why was she holding a gun.

Eventually I found out. It wasn’t who I had expected. There was a lot of that. I used to read these books by the half-dozen from the library; books by Robert Ludlum or Dick Francis or Agatha Christie.

This one was bought in a charity shop in a charity shop which meant it had yellowed pages and a slightly older book smell just like most books used to be. Most of our books were old for one reason or another. I think it helped — as if the story was being told to you by someone who’d heard it from someone else. The new-book off-white was off-putting at times as if the paper lacked empathy.

Actually that last line is the sort of line I’d probably want to read in the other books I started reading. ‘The important books’.

I was snobbish about thrillers for a good while. I wanted to read ‘great books’. Books that changed the way I felt about human nature. Tales spanning 14 periods of history, started off in a dusty market in Muscat before ending up in a coffee-shop in Brooklyn. Books that went off into digressions about quantum theory or how to propagate daffodils to make me feel like I was the one doing the research.

Or non-fiction books that challenge every preconception you had about a time in history or an ordinary household object so that you can drop that info into conversations in the pub and seem fierce smart.

But they’d keep mentioning other things I didn’t know about and I’d have to look up ‘The Second Nutmeg War’ on my phone and then, sure, that was game over. I’d be still on Wikipedia an hour later reading about Oman and the book still in pristine condition next to me with one-stamp bookshop loyalty card still in the middle of it.

So I’m back on the thrillers. The books you only need eyes and/or hands to read with the phone hurled out of reach and a mug of tea going cold because who has time for slurps? But just as I finish this column, a shadow falls across my face. And then nothing. Darkness…


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