A friend of mine asked on Facebook: “What’s the story about someone who was granted three wishes, and when the first two were granted and they saw what the results were, had to use the third to undo them?” Well, I’m not sure, but I think there are various legendary tales of that kind. I suppose the most basic is that of King Midas who died of starvation when his prayer for everything he touched to be turned to gold was granted — gold being inedible. This is a story often thrown at millionaires or successful entrepeneurs. I suppose it dramatises the saying “You can’t take it with you”, or — more generally — “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it!”
I am not covetous for ‘gold’. I’d like a bit more in the bank, but I guess that’s usual, and permanent. I could never see the point of acquiring, for instance, multiple homes when you can only be in one room at a time, and sleep in one bed at a time. Yes, that’s part of my naivety. If I had unlimited money, there’s all sorts of things I’d like to do with it, but I’m not actually as money-conscious as I know I should be. I’m not claiming to be above wordly things — somewhat the opposite.
My ‘King Midas’ story is that in that fantasy world of such wishes being granted, I would ask for numerous parallel lifetimes so that I could read a larger proportion of all the books I’d be interested in. I wouldn’t ask for everlasting life — the ‘Midas’ snag in that is only too obvious. Besides, the books would keep multiplying. No, parallel lifetimes.
But even then, I can see the snag. The wish wouldn’t cover my very imperfect and unpredictable memory, so I would still only retain so much of what I had read. For many years I have kept a list of books read, and it often gives me surprises. Occasionally I can’t remember a book at all. Other times I am surprised to see how recently I read something. I am always starting on sequences of novels (too many) — it’s easier these days to get hold of them in the right order — but finding I don’t remember what’s gone before. And yet I don’t usually like ploughing through a series one title after another — in theory I like to alternate fiction with non-fiction, though it often doesn’t work like that.
In the last year my reading has included a great deal of re-reading. I have written about this before. I prefer to put it down to lockdown psychology, rather than to my undoubtedly advancing age. For one thing we can’t go to the library. But to be honest, I not uncommonly start, or at least acquire, books and then don’t persist with them. I call this kindle psychology.
So — no “three wishes”, or any other number. There’d always be an unforeseen snag. As ever, it’s a case of make the best of what you can do. And be grateful for the reading habit I acquired as a child. It doesn’t make you a better person, and certainly not a more intelligent one. But it makes the world a more interesting place.