It was something I saw on Facebook. A local library somewhere was promoting reading with something new, urging readers to risk a Blind Date With A Book. Books were wrapped in plain paper, their covers hidden, their blurb obscured. Just a few words on the wrapping gave a hint of what lay inside: Drama, Plot Twists, Espionage, and so on; only the barcode was exposed for the Librarian to issue the book. 'A cool idea', the person who'd posted it said.
Cool indeed, I thought, instantly feeling better about my life. Because just how many times do I take a book out with me, knowing I'm going to be spending time on my own? But I'm not on my own, I've learned today: I'm on a date with a book! Suddenly my life seems very different... I've moved, in the second it took to view this picture, from the person who never dated much, who disliked nightclubs and now, as age proceeds, prefers a book or rather obscure TV to the noisy wine bar crowded with my peers, to the person who's dated constantly, who's barely spent a week alone, who's constantly surrounded by crowds of companions, yet eager to meet many more.
Take a book out on a date? Why yes. Because nothing could be replicate the excitement of meeting someone new quite as well as the frisson of starting a new book. Will it live up to what you've heard about it? Will you have read reviews which made you hopeful, only to find the reality is less appealing than you thought, a bit like that chap your friends told you you'd love, only for him to turn up wearing white socks and a pair of rubber crocs? Will the book start off so brilliantly, only for the plot to lose momentum halfway through and drift to its conclusion predictably, like that person you really fell for at the start, but who bored you after several weeks, when you realized that the initial charm you'd liked so much was all there really was? Or the book which looks really interesting and clever but which turns out to be boring and pretentious, a bit like the person whose brain-power impressed you on the day you met, but sadly they were quite impressed by it as well, so that they talked about it, endlessly...?
And when you think about it, finding yourself with somebody on a date is incredibly similar to losing yourself in a book. The crackle of stiff paper, the new book smell... the awkward first half-kiss, the perfume, the cologne. The author's reputation, back catalogue, reviews... those things your friends have said, or those few minutes you spent on Facebook. The excitement of wondering how the plot will twist the lives of the characters you've just met... the anticipation of how the night will go, and where it just might lead. The anger. The frustration. The laughter, happiness, or joy. The tears. That feeling when the book betrays your hopes, or wrenches your emotions. The feeling that you won't be hurt again: you just won't read another book, if reading is going to make you cry this much. The exhaustion when you couldn't leave all those words aside, but read on late into the night, turning up for work next day with betraying shadows underneath your eyes.
'Rough night?' your friends will ask, with knowing smiles.
'You wouldn't understand,' you groan... 'it's honestly the best book that I've ever read...'
Drama. Plot twists. Espionage. The barbed wire world of dating has them all, and so do books. The book that makes you love its heroine, then stabs you in the back when she dies. The book that turns out to have been deceiving you all along: the date who told you it was serious, then who cheated anyway... When he threw away those vile crocs in the end...
Blind Dates with a Book. It could sum up a life, somehow - or could sum up mine. Speed-dating in bookshops, glancing at a title here, a blurb there, judging by covers or what I knew before. Falling out with one author or in love with another, missing a book long after I've finished reading it, being haunted by its prose or characters like the lasting spectre of first love. Passing on some recommended reading with the care I'd take in introducing someone to a person with whom I think they might be friends. Bringing books with me everywhere - the workplace lunchtime, the weekend café, the bedside table, the holiday hotel. Knowing that, whatever happens, if I'm reading something then I needn't feel alone...
Blind dates with books create lifetimes of companionship; drama, twists of plot. The prose to tell your story, and the endless story that you have to tell.