Tolstoy on his 80th birthday.
My ideal reader is someone with a lot of time on their hands who speaks approximately 1.5 modern European languages, and knows how to hot-wire a car. They probably have really good teeth and really bad credit, and mispronounce words like “magenta” and “testosterone”, and mix up their prepositions but in like, a totally adorable way. My ideal reader usually subscribes to the LRB or The New Yorker but only on a trial basis - via one of those deals where you pay 99p for six-months, and get a free pencil or a tote bag - and they are absolutely ruthless when it comes to cancelling their subscription before they are billed for the next period. My ideal reader is I guess, a bit of a scam queen, has a loyalty card for every store they visit, and probably carries a devotional image in an, ah, I’m gonna say Gucci wallet. (It was a gift, okay, they would never buy something like that for themselves, but their Mother wanted to get them something for graduation and they couldn’t say no without looking ungrateful per se. Still they feel a little smug when they open it up at the coffee shop, and see the barista clock the interlocking GG logos. It feels like, even with the face mask and all, still some part of their personality is visible, even if like, it’s not exactly their personality).
My ideal reader never wore skinny jeans, even before thicc was a thing they recognised that their broad hips and high voluptuous butt were just not flattered by a drainpipe cut. My ideal reader has been wearing flares since the third time they came back into fashion, and is now feeling slightly (only slightly) resentful that they’re back again, and this time people are really getting onboard with the trend. My ideal writer thinks of themselves as an artist, doesn’t make any art per se, but they have an artistic vibe about them all the same; they RT most of what Carmen Maria Machado has to say, and tell themselves weekly, if not daily, if not hourly, that they really need to order a copy of “In The Dream House” from Amazon, as soon as they get home. (Later they will have an unresolvable moment of self-conflict upon recognising once again that Amazon is the problem, but then, can they really be bothered to order from an indie, when it’ll take at least a week and cost anywhere from 50p to £1.75 more? That’s like the cost of a coffee in Starbucks in 1994, that’s like, not nothing! Maybe they have the book on eBay, pre-used is a kind of recycling right? But then, will the author see this revenue? Or will all the profit got to fat cat resellers like Angie_3211?)
My ideal reader can roll their own joints, they can cook, they invite me for dinner, though I have to decline because I’m afraid of everything, and besides, I don’t actually know them. My ideal reader, doesn’t take offence though, they say “That’s cool, that’s cool, I get it,” and chalk it up to my artistic temperament. My ideal reader is secretly quite relieved because all they have in rn is a block of tofu (possibly past the expiry date) and a packet of Margarita mix. My ideal reader thinks that if they ever transitioned they would chose the name Margarita actually, because it’s sort of sexy and fun, and somehow escapes all the frumpy connotations of Margaret, though if they had to choose a favourite royal it would be Margret, not that they really watch “The Crown” with any serious interest, not that they really watch any television per se, but yeah, it was on once or twice in the background, maybe at the nail salon, or at that burrito place with the Tuesday night happy hour, they miss that place. They miss socialising, and the margaritas of course! Lol! But wait, erm, isn’t Margarita kind of cultural appropriation? Maybe they need a new fantasy post-transition name, something very neutral, something like Maureen, but then wait, no, no transwoman would ever call herself Maureen, would they? Would they? My ideal reader doesn’t want to mansplain (even if they are questioning gender constructs) so they commit to doing the work of unlearning transphobic heterosexist conditioning, right after they check if the new episode of Drag Race has leaked yet. Not that they really watch it.
My ideal reader definitely has food allergies, and not just the popular ones, but like the really annoying ones, like soy and peanut, and they feel quite embarrassed about it. It stresses them out because the allergies are very real and very dangerous, but because of their haircut, everyone thinks that it’s just some sort of game they play in restaurants to get attention. (It’s not, the allergies are actually potentially fatal). My ideal reader has actually felt quite glad that all their local restaurants have been closed for the past year or so, because it saves them a lot of awkward conversations about gazpacho and curly fries. They have decided that when this is all over, they are going to frame their allergies as being part of their religious beliefs, since they (mistakenly) believe that now everyone is woke they respect that sort of thing.
My ideal reader has committed to reading 50 books this year, last year they wanted to do the couch to 5 k, but that didn’t really work with where they were at, so they’ve decide that this year is going to be more about intellectual marathons, not that a 5k is a marathon, but look this isn’t a seminar on metaphors, ok? The point is that books are their bag, lol, and so yeah, bring on that 9,000 page biography of that writer who killed that other writer, and the seven volume collection of poems by that Irish guy, no the other Irish guy, no the other Irish guy. Oh and yes of course they’re going to be reading work by black writers, and female writers too, but not because they’re black writers, not because they’re female writers, just because they’re good writers, hopefully. No-one wants to get fifty pages into a Barbara Cartland and find out that it doesn’t live up to the hype do they?
My ideal reader has always wanted to write their own book, but then lately they’ve been forced to seriously consider if literature is even a viable art form anymore, if it hasn’t in fact been corrupted by commercialism, and domesticated as the pet of a neoliberal global culture tyranny. They haven’t come to a satisfying conclusion yet, but they will, likely after London digital fashion week. In the meantime my ideal reader is thinking a lot about documentary film, it’s not exactly the same thing as writing (they know that) but still, they feel that it is grappling for the same truths as the real masters were, back when writing really meant something. The great Russians who wrote in spite of everything, Tolstoy who spent years in the gulag for displeasing the Tsar, fuck man, that’s writing. That’s literature. My ideal reader is wary of today’s so-called writers, feels the need to maintain a critical distance - but that’s not to say writing today is meaningless, of course not, not per se.