‘What you reading?’ says the book.


‘No need to be shy,’ says the book. ‘Go on, what is it?’

‘Nothing. Not saying.’

‘Go on. Go on. Go ON.’

‘It’s nothing,’ I say. I look at the book for a minute. It has stolen one of my hats. ‘You can be really annoying sometimes.’

‘You going to tell me who it is or do I have to come over there and -’

‘It’s Ali Smith,’ I say. ‘I knew it!’ says the book. ‘Didn’t I tell you it was Ali Smith? I knew it,’ the book says again.

‘Who are you talking to?’ I say.

‘No one. Just. Anyway. Ali Smith, eh? Thought it was her.’

‘I thought you thought it was her,’ I say.


‘Ali Smith. The way you asked me what I was reading. You said ‘What you reading’. It’s what Daniel says all the way through Autumn. You been reading her too?’

‘Not saying.’

‘Please don’t start,’ I say. ‘You been reading her?’

‘She’s good, isn’t she?’ says the book.

‘Very. The thing is, I only started reading her recently. I’m kind of ashamed about it to be honest.’ I look across at the book. It looks as though it has fallen asleep. ‘It took me being ill to actually find her. I was off work and a colleague said did I want to read Autumn while I recuperated and I said yes, and then I got ill again and the same colleague said she had just finished Winter and did I want to read that as well and I said yes please, because you know I loved Autumn so much, and then I read that, don’t remember anything else about the winter at all, it was January, reading Winter in January, before the real winter actually began in March or whenever it was, that beast thing we all went on about, it’s funny.’

The book’s eyes are firmly closed, its breathing steady.

‘And I wonder what that is about, needing something like that, some kind of crisis to happen, externally, you know, before deigning to take the plunge and read someone who for some reason I had always thought was always going to be too difficult or something, I don’t know. I’m really ashamed about it you know. I don’t know where it comes from, that laziness or fear that stops you doing what you know, secretly, is the thing that might make all the difference, set you free even. That secret need to keep certain people as other. I am so ashamed of myself. Then I read How to be Both. Completely took my head off. Took me a week. And me, a slow reader and everything.’

The book says nothing, sleeping peacefully on the sofa, still wearing my hat.