This caused me some dilemma. I have read Mister Pip. And I know that about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through, Very Bad Things happen. Things that could not be guessed from the book's spritely, tutti-frutti-coloured cover. Quite Bad enough to put you off your toasted teacake and pot of tea for two.
You fool, Jones, you might say. Very Bad Things lurk all over the place, ready to declare themselves in their slightly bored and matter-of-fact way. And old people have seen it all. They love a bit of trouble and are, after all, the key demographic in the audience of Midsomer Murders (although that group also includes a surprising amount of my friends). Only last year, as we were selling our jetsam at a car boot sale, an elderly lady asked my mum and I if we had any crime novels, because she 'loved a murder'.
But my point is, if your book-reading days and months are numbered – though of course this applies to all of us – don't you want to make every one of those books count? Wouldn't you want the option of shooing away any black clouds before they're on top of you? Wouldn't you welcome a warning – the chance of turning away from literary peril, towards the snug pages of something that will rub some warmth into your withered heart and brittle bones?
At a mere 34 years young, whenever I go into a bookshop, I always end up feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the books that I haven't read and never will. (This is different to my friend Kelly. Whenever she goes into a bookshop, she is always overwhelmed by the need to poo. I'm not even making that up.) The stakes, then, when you're choosing a new read, seem incredibly high. I wish there was a way of knowing what would leave you feeling unhappy, or cheated, so you didn't waste your precious reading hours on it. In the future, I'd like it very much please if, through a combination of technology and witchcraft, bookshop displays could customise themselves specifically for you when you walked in. Imagine if each book that was unsuitable would communicate that message through flashing lights or the recorded, reassuring voice of Michael Aspel, who of course would still be alive, though principally operated by animatronics.
'Yes, the cover is very nice. So is Alan Titchmarsh and you don't want to spend four hours with him.'
'You will never get past page 30, however many times you start. Your interest in quantum physics falls dramatically short of your estimation.'
'It's grubby. You love it. Hide it inside The Spectator when reading in front of your train-commute crush.'
'Just because it has a pastel cover, you think you're better than this. Get over yourself.'
'This has a pastel cover. You are better than this.'
It can only be a matter of time. I've seen Minority Report.