When I was a child, holidays were magical. Every year, for the week or two that we spent away from home, I was another me; living a different life in a different world, spending time in a place that was filled with new things to do, friends to make and places to visit. Of course it was a totally artificial creation, but for the length of the holiday it was real to me. I belonged in that world and I never wanted to leave.
A couple of days ago, as I read the last few pages of a book that had completely captured me, I recognised that old feeling; a familiar sense of loss, a wistful wishing it could all carry on for just a little bit longer.
Just like arriving on holiday, whenever I begin a new book, it takes a day or two to get into it. I start off feeling a bit unsure, finding my way around, wondering how it might unfold. Bit by bit, I start to feel comfortable in my new surroundings, I see who all the people are and where they've come from, I begin to work out what they're like and what their contribution might be. As I read on, those characters stay with me, I find myself thinking about them, even when they're not right in front of me.
About three quarters of the way through, my reading slows down. I've been caught out before, thinking that there were dozens of pages left to read, only to find that they were filled with promotions for other books, guidance pages for book club readings, or an extract from the author's next novel. Now, as soon as I realise that the unread section is getting thinner, I flick to the back to find out how many pages are really left. If I have to reach the end of a book, I need to prepare for it, and if possible, put it off just a little bit longer.
When the ending comes, as it inevitably must, and even when it's the very best ending that could have possibly been written, the sense of loss is palpable. I think about what happened in the story, and wonder what might have come next for the characters that have become my companions. For a while, the thought of starting another book seems almost disloyal.
Eventually though, I remember that the very best way to get over the end of one holiday, has always been to have another one to look forward to. So then I place the finished book with all the other ones I've read, in the book pile that's gradually turning into a book wall. And I look at the stack of those I've yet to start, wondering where the next one might take me.