I have been absent. In London, mostly. Physically. Feeling a little discouraged, a little directionless, a little lost, a little sad. But at least it's spring and there are daffodils everywhere. Outside my window in the local park in Walthamstow the trees are in bloom. Yesterday I didn't wear tights, and last week I sat in the park after coming home from work. It was still warm, and I read my book in the sunshine and felt almost happy.
I've been reading A Song of Ice and Fire (the book series that Game of Thrones is based on) for the last month and a half. I just finished the (for now) last book in the series yesterday. I had never watched the TV show and never planned on watching it or, god forbid, read five massive books of a fantasy series. But then I read this fantastic article in the London Review of Books a year ago, and that was it. It was like a challenge. A very convincing challenge. In the article, John Lanchester argues that fantasy as a genre is unpopular with the general reader, and that it is unlike other genre literature which does, occasionally, produce massive bestsellers that are loved by the general, genre-averse readership. Lanchester further shows how A Song of Ice and Fire actually works with and undermines the tropes of its own genre.
In February I found a cheap copy of the first book in a charity shop: a copy that had a picture of a gloomy Sean Bean on the cover. I didn't even know that Sean Bean played a character in the tv show - if I had known, I might have started watching it years ago! I was half-hoping that I'd hate the book, or that it would be a cheap thrill. That one book would be enough and I'd go back to Victorian novels, Roman autobiography, or books about sad teenagers. Instead, I kept reading. My commute improved immeasurably. I like what Iris Murdoch called 'a jolly good yarn'. I also like long books, epic tales, complex character arcs, and feeling emotionally involved with what I'm reading. So reading thousands of pages about a made-up world obviously suited me very well. I read many books that are beautifully written pieces of art, but many of those have predictable plots, or hardly any plot at all - which, incidentally, is one of my main problems with much German-language literature.
Conclusion: Read John Lanchester's article, ignore the tv show (I've watched it since - utterly banal and boring compared to the books, not to mention the women-as-props issue), read the books. Especially if you have a long commute. I ended up looking forward to spending 40 minutes on the tube because it gave me uninterrupted reading time.
On a completely unrelated note: If you're in London in the coming months, you should check out Phyllida Barlow's installations at the Tate Britain. I saw it a couple of weeks ago and loved it.