Ian McMillan: Why sometimes we should all dare to be different

When it comes to reading, I reckon a lot of us have our little fenced areas beyond which we won't venture. My mate Les the Ice Cream Man enjoys factual books best; give him an ancient history tome thicker than a Magnum and he's happy. When there are no customers on a chilly day and the chimes are silent he'll pore over a brick-sized book about the Romans, marking his page with a Flake when it's time to serve somebody. I made that last bit up, about the Flake, but I'd like to think that one day it might be true.

Ian McMillan

Some people are one-author-completists. They’ll wait breathlessly for the new Ian Rankin book or they’ll scour the shelves of charity shops to find obscure lost Rankins published by a small press to mark a special occasion. This works well when the author is question is still putting pen to paper but what about when they’ve gone to the great Reading Room in the Sky? I know someone who’s a Catherine Cookson completist and she simply ignores the fact that Cookson is, ahem, complete. So she’ll just read and reread the Catherine Cooksons she’s got on her bookshelf, ignoring the fact that she knows the stories off by heart.

Then there are the people who like to read Science Fantasy novels, huge sequences of books set on the Planet Flooom at the very end of the GzGZG dynasty. I’ve never really got into this kind of space-opera myself but I know that some people are never happier than when they’re immersing themselves in a cloud of space-gas the size of Lofthouse, knowing that it’ll be at least three hundred pages and a robollion Earth years before the three moons of Blon are visible over the horizon.

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So the mischief-maker in me wants to mix these books up and mix the readers up, just to see what happens; let’s slip a Catherine Cookson book inside the jacket of Les the Ice Cream Man’s copy of The Etruscans and see what happens. Let’s give the Science Fiction fan Les’s History of Ancient Greece and swap Cookson for dynastic alien battles in atmosphere so thick you need your space inhaler.

On the face of it this could be a disaster, but maybe not. Perhaps, after an initial moment of incomprehension and distaste, our disparate band of readers would warm to their unexpected gifts. All three of our bibliophiles might appreciate the fact that a story is a story and that good writing is simply good writing whether on a space station or a Northumberland pit village or the dusty streets of Pompeii.

This is a plea, really, to myself as much as others: why don’t we all have a go at reading something different? We might just enjoy it. I’ll go first: I read a lot of poetry but I’ll have a go at reading a detective thriller. I might let you know whodunit, but only if the clues are in rhyme.