I’ve just watched the last two episodes of Mad Men and I’m starting to think the unthinkable. It feels almost sacrilegious but I got more from that 90 minutes of TV drama than I would have done from reading a book.
I’ve always thought of myself as a book person. I’ve got two English degrees and have never forgiven my parents for not buying me a membership of the Puffin Club. But I can’t remember the last time I read a novel.
I’m still attached to books. I’m always overdrawn at the library and my bookshelves are full of things waiting for me to read them. I still read non-fiction, because I want to know things and books can be easier than the internet. But too often novels make me feel that my time is being wasted. At the office book club, I have a good record of hating everything we read (apart from poetry).
Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s because the novel is a 19th century art form and we’re in the 21st. Perhaps there are better ways now of telling stories.
It would be hard in a few pages of a book to fit in the drama, the pathos, the backstory and the nuance that you get in these few seconds of TV: Don tells Peggy that someone important has died: ‘the only person who really knew me.’ And Peggy says: ‘That’s not true.’ And you know that, actually, it is.
I feel for those imaginary people. I’m immersed in that world. I’m still there even after it’s finished. That’s exactly how I felt as a child reader, in the 60s, with my Puffin paperbacks.