Having just expounded at length on academic understanding of reading, I should say what I've been reading recently.
I have a lot of books - my flat is bursting with them, and I've colonised my shared office with the overflow. This, naturally, leads to book anxiety, the horrible feeling you get when someone else scrutinises your shelves, like they're looking into your soul. If a colleague comes round, I find myself muttering excuses ('the lit theory's mostly at work', or 'the rest of the Shelley must be in the bedroom') for my collection. Books do, as someone said, furnish a room, but they also give the viewer a history of the reader. My books are a mix of work, of childhood sentiment and of pleasure: the fact that I have a work/pleasure divide means I'm not really an academic compared with some of my friends. I've internalised the Leavisite division between Literature and books. Not completely, and the academy is more open to the stuff I read for fun than 50 years ago, but the division's still there, in my head at least.
So I'll confess: here's what I read for pleasure on holiday:
Butterworth's A World That Never Was, a history of 19th-century anarchism (which revealed that pretty much every terrorist outrage was a covert police provocation).
Robert Bennett's The Company Man: a union/industrial/alternative history/SF thriller.
Iain Sinclair's Lights Out for the Territory
Ian McGuire's Incredible Bodies, a satirical campus novel.
No doubt I'll be quoting all four of these at length over the next few days - so much of what they had to say resonated with the riots, my job and other things. But that aside, they do indicate that I have different reading 'modes'. With The Company Man, I chose it for its promised political element, and the purpose was entertainment and sensation (and because my friends The Nightingales have a song of the same name). The anarchism volume was entertaining, but I read it primarily to deepen my understanding of the context. Lights Out… was chosen because its reputation was so high, and because I've become interested in the same things as Sinclair to some extent. It felt like Literature, and it stretched me intellectually, while giving me ideas for lectures. Finally, Incredible Bodies was entertaining but also bore some relevance to my situation - insecurely employed as a lit/cult studies lecturer, trying to cope with the tides of theoretical moves, not keeping up with the multivalent demands on the modern, commoditised academic. Reading what's essentially a farce about my own life added a kind of perspective: you could say I read it as a form of self-help.
Your turn: what are you reading and why?