I love books, and the older I get, the more widely I seem to read. I always have lots of books on the go at once. They fall into four categories: those I've been reading 'forever' and never finished (Dante's Divine Comedy, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet); those I read quite ploddingly but do or will finish (Patrick Leigh Fermor's Mani, Karen Armstrong's History of God, Hendrik van Loon's Story of Mankind); those I read quickly and find 'unputdownable' (The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Magus by John Fowles, The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane); and those I'm constantly dipping into but rarely reading all the way through (often these are art, poetry or philosophy books, such as The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, A Year with Rilke and The Penguin Krishnamurti Reader). I think different books call for different ways of reading: some you want to take into yourself, to savour leisurely and meditate upon; others you want to devour in one or two evenings. I have no preference: I enjoy all kinds of books, and don't care how quickly or how slowly I read them.
Right now I'm reading Marc Chagall's My Life, a delightful, rather whimsical memoir by the great artist; the amazing, towering masterpiece of Proust's In Search of Lost Time; and The Broken Road, Patrick Leigh Fermor's posthumously-published account of his youthful walking adventures in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece.
On my waiting-to-be-read pile are the novels Stoner by John Williams and The Immoralist by André Gide (this a reread), The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol and Bashō's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches.
So I still have to complete War and Peace, but will do some day. I've read two-thirds. And I've just borrowed CH Sisson's wonderfully lucid translation of Dante, which is really exciting — so much more readable than other translations I've tried:
Half way along the road we have to go,
I found myself obscured in a great forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way.
It is hard to say just what the forest was like,
How wild and rough it was, how overpowering;
Even to remember it makes me afraid.
So bitter it is, death itself is hardly more so;
Yet there was good there, and to make it clear
I will speak of other things that I perceived.
I cannot tell exactly how I got there,
I was so full of sleep at that point of my journey
When, somehow, I left the proper way . . .
We often find ourselves 'obscured in a great forest, bewildered' — but books can help point out the way.