‘Pageturner’ sounds naff and cheap to my foreing ear. It smells like plains and coaches instead of trains and walkes. It is like something going on in the background while you are doing something else, more important than reading. It assumes that a book would be quickly read and disposed of. But is it what we want from a book? Would I call any of my favourite books a ‘pageturner’? For the things that we like we want them to last as long as possible, preferably forever. A good dance show, a delicious dessert, an exotic holiday or a hot summer day, we don’t want them to end. So why would it be different with books?
The better and more intriguing a book becomes, dragging me in, the more I put frains in action to slow down my reading. For Slow, oriental time is my favourite sort of time - the best thing about Lockdown was timeslowing. When eventually everybody and everything, except for the joggers, slowed pace. I even made P, my English manfrined, walk twice, in a Corniche Leger Promenade instead of his usual Brisk Busy London stride, which was a big achievement - on a sunny morning we were gliding like Venecian gondolas down empty Dalston streets. “We are supposed to be exercising, not crawling” him; “Walking at any pace is a good exercise” me. I think he liked it, but wouldn’t admit it. - and I apply it through various techniques to my reading.
One of the oldest pagesticking - which is timeslowing when reading - techniques is the Sitting with the Book technique. It’s simple - you just sit with the book next to you, like two old friends that enjoy sitting together in silence, and stare through the window - if you are at home, or at the passers by if you are in the garden.
Another old pagesticking technique is obviously checking the dictionary. The more I like the book, the more often I check the dictionary - especially when I reach the second half of the book. And if, perchance, there aren’t enough unknown words, then I check known words’ origins. Then information like “from middle English” or “contemporary informal American” add yet another layer to the book’s volume of dimensions and delight.
A relatively new technique I developed since my arrival in London is googling. Googling turns every book into Shehrezada’s storytelling - for each mentioned name - and there are surprisingly many names of real personalities alongside invented protagonists - googled is a story within the story, which might lead to few more stories, if one so wishes - famous people often turn to be children of famous people and then marry other famous people and have, sometimes more sometimes less, famous children. Thus you might have two, three, five interconnected stories related to only one peripheral character in your main, novel story.
Since I am in London in addition to names I google locations. It started with Niven’s “Kill Your Friends”, where at one of the last pages the River Cafe was mentioned. I was so bothered that I have only four-five pages left to read that I decided to first go check on the River Cafe and only then continue reading. Now, that is what I call a proper pagesticker, I mean the book. While the technique of visiting book-places while reading is the trump of the pagesticking techniques.
From a pagesticking point of view, very exasperating was William Boyd’s Armadillo - it just wouldn’t allow the application of this biggest and more enjoyable read-slowing technique in its integrity - the googling and visiting of places. As Boyd sets his action in real locations, say Camden Passage, but would invent the name of the particular place. So I could situate it roughly, but then wouldn’t be able to create an “augmented reality” by visiting. Therefore, no, Armadillo is not a real pagesticker, even though I liked it.
Emma Forrest’s ‘Royals’ on the other hand is a pagesticker big time. To ‘Royals’ all timeslowing techniques are applicable. Say today, when I had less than a hundred pages left, I spent a big part of the afternoon just sitting next to it, reading half a page.
The story is about two teenagers that accidentally meet in a hospital’s paediatric ward. As one of the teenagers is an aspiring designer, I was given the opportunity to google some half a dozen 80s English designers I have never heard of; together with individuals I have heard of, but which stories I didn’t quite clearly remember like Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, at which point I had to youtube some tunes, and Montgomery Clift, at which point I had to watch some films - obviously all of them with their parents, halves and offspring.
While Jasmine and Steven, the teenage protagonists, were drinking tea in Claridges, I checked Claridges’ ‘Afternoon Tea Menu‘ online and am now wondering at which exactly point should I stop reading and go check on Claridges lavatories described by Emma Forrest as the best lavatories in town. As for Claridges afternoon tea I am too skinned alas.
Most ‘Royals” words I searched in the Oxford Dictionary are of Middle English and Modern American. Thus, ‘Royals’ ticks all the boxes of a classical pagesticker; but if this is not enough testimony for the excellence of the book I will quote a passage, as delightful as the next, in a Turkish delight box of a book:
“Outside Marble Arch Tube, evangelical Christinas were calling through megaphones. ‘Sin!’ they shouted, like they were hawking it at a discounted summer rate. Saudi men in neon shorts were trailed by women in black niqabs. Occasionally, they’d cross paths with a Hassidic man in his glossy curls and fur-covered U.F.O hat (as fabulous as anything Grace Jones would wear), while his wife bore the sadness of her lifeless wig and worn-down loafers. These couples were the purest interpretation of birds in the wild, the males strutting peacocks, the females muted. It bothered me. I wondered if, to balance, the men had grey, sad, underwear and the women’s lingerie was pastel fancies*. Jehovah’s Witnesses stood silently beside their piles of Watchtower magazines.”
In a word: Emma Forrest’s ‘Royals’, 2019, is my Lockdown No1 Book
*Red, fuxcia or pink more likely judging by the underwear sold in Muslim Brotherhood pervaded Egypt or Ayatollah’s infested Iran. (Note of the reviewer)
27 May 2020