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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The agony of Not Reading A Book


Some people need a Personal Trainer. I think I need a Reading Manager.

Having just finished Mayflower: A Voyage to War and Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, then read a couple of chapters of Why England Lose and some of At Home: A Short History of Private Life while waiting for the kettle to boil, I'm passing through that brief interregnum when I'm not officially Reading A Book.

Looking at the teetering stack of books I've either bought, been sent, been loaned or plucked from the pile of review copies in the office recently I can't decide whether this is a delight or torture. Maybe it's a combination of the two. And by the way, what about those people who read the new Jonathan Franzen novel or Tony Blair's memoirs the minute they come out? Haven't they got a prior commitment to something else? You can't just break off one book and start another, can you?

As far as this pile is concerned it's not a question of working out what's any good. I don't doubt they're all very good. It's more a question of what do I feel like? Or should that be what *will*I feel like? If I've just come off some non-fiction, would I be best continuing in the same vein or is it time for a change? I've never been able to read fiction in the same way since Danny Baker pointed out "it's all made up".

And how do you get started without making a big deal of it? How can you just slip into reading something without being haunted by those same inner voices that used to haunt first dates (a long time ago), the ones that clearly say "this isn't going to work out." I always have to handle the changeover from one book to another carefully for fear I lose the knack for reading. I can remember periods of my life when I hardly read books at all and I worry about them returning.

A Reading Manager might be a good idea. A cross between a friend and a teacher. Somebody who is always a few steps ahead and is in a position to provide reassurance when things aren't going well and a clip round the ear when I'm starting to drift. I may advertise. Watch the press.

19 comments:

JonathanM said...

Alone in Berlin might be the book to read next - whilst it is fiction it is also based on fact, and is interesting historically too.

Huw said...

I'm forever picking up books in charity shops and at bootsales, thereby building up several shelves full of books I'm "going to read one day". A while ago I picked out 6 books and decided that I wouldn't buy another until I'd read them all. Did it work? Of course not. I got halfway through the first before buying another on holiday which I then read through in an afternoon. It really does come down to what you're in the mood for, which you don't really know until you start reading.

Andy Gunton said...

I feel your pain & am a fellow sufferer.

Lucas Hare said...

Now I feel awful for recommending that book to you. That's some pile.

Nicole said...

Try reading "Howard's End Is On The Landing" by Susan Hill. Although in some ways it makes it all worse, because you notice all the books around the house that you haven't got around to because they weren't quite "right" to read at the time.

PS: I didn't quite get through the Beckett 70's book; I had already overdosed on the Dominic Sandbrook books.

John Medd said...

I can't recommend this highly enough. Maybe it's taken on a new resonance as we too are moving out of the city to a quieter retreat. As for the 'planning the next read,' I agree, there has to be a handover period (certainly when going from fiction to fiction). However, do you allow yourself to start something new if you're reading, let's say, a lengthy memoir? Or can there only be one book on the go at any one time?

Paul said...

Having been in the book trade for twenty years I cannot begin to tell you how many books are in my house that I have or haven't read. Bought, given, new, old, advance proofs, manuscripts etc.

There is no workable solution, however they are a more attractive form of insulation if you stack them against the walls!

I'm with you on the whole 'mood' problem. In the last five years I have drifted inexorably away from fiction for no discernible reason other than that I'm finding non-fiction far more entertaining...

Phil said...

You are your own personal Reading Manager. Pick up the book and read a few pages. If you absolutely don't like it, give the book away; if the book is for another time, put it back on the pile.

What we all need is a Book Pile Manager. Something in the subconscious mind that ticks us off when we add a tome to the pile.

ps You are late coming to The Black Swan. There is more of merit in that book than the socio-psycho-economic cobblers declaimed elsewhere.

witsandnuts said...

My Black Swan book has been resting for two years already. :(

Andy said...

If you find the solution please let us all know.

A few months ago I gathered all the yet-to-be-read books together (including my still uncracked copy of The Black Swan) and made the mistake of estimating how long it would take to clear the backlog, based on current pace. At a minimum, it was somewhere between 2-3 years.

Inevitably, I've since bought a few more (those 3-for-2s!). Oh, and my Kindle should be here by the end of the month.

But there's another frustration which relates to "reading behaviours" which I'm sure can't be unique to me. Amongst these is a ridiculous inefficiency, where I'll get fairly far through a book, encounter some interruption (busy time at work, the need for DIY to be done) and lose momentum and, usually, the thread. When the opportunity comes to pick it back up I will, almost without exception, start from the beginning. The inefficiency comes from the fact that I'll normally get to roughly the same point before another interruption comes along. So, in addition to the unread books, I have a pile of partially read books. In terms of reading time, I must have been through "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (it's very good!) twice but the book mark remains shy of the half way line. Fascinating as it is, I fear I may never finish it.

Perhaps a new category for Waterstone's, "Sisyphean Reads".

Gerontius said...

Is size also an issue here? It's partly that it's physically harder to take it with you on journeys, or to prop up in bed, and so it's harder to read than three smaller books - but (and as the Kindle etc perhaps eliminate that problem?) it's also the fact that you could read through three others on the pile. Not just three different experiences, but three more titles down, rather than just one. Has to be a factor, doesn't it?

David Jennings said...

I think Reading Manager may be one of the services offered by the School of Life in their bibliotherapy 'module' http://www.theschooloflife.com/Bibliotherapy. Alain de Botton, prominent in your pile, is (rather predictably) a patron/fellow/whatever there.

Haven't tried it myself as, though my own pile is too big to be piled, I don't have the time to take more advice...

David Hepworth said...

A few years ago our son turned up home in the middle of a university term. "What are you doing here?" we asked. "Reading week," he replied, suppressing a smirk. Well, anyone who's been charged with the care and feeding of teenagers knows that "private study" means "watching Sky Sports News". "Reading week" was even more so. Anyway, I think they should stop wasting this kind of thing on people who just want to go to the pub and instead give the rest of us a Reading Week once a year.

BLTP said...

would getting them from the library help, the limited time frame forcing your hand plus there's not the "owning thing" weighing you down as well. Maybe knowing you only have book for a set period would help just a thought.

Gerontius said...

@BTLP - I think the opposite would be the case - at least if you've bought it, there's the weight of financial guilt to encourage you; if it's from a library, you just give it back and it disappears from your conscience...

michael said...

I feel about books in the same way I used to think about ciggies - can't bear the thought of not having access to one. Therefore - one at work for lunchtime - one in the loo at home - one in the car (and always a talking book on the stereo) - one on the kitchen table - one by the bedside - all on the go at the same time.

Seamus said...

David, on the Danny Baker comment surely the same can be applied to music. Bryan Adams really didn't get that six string at the five and dime back in 1969...it's all made up.

Lee Slator said...

I too have that fear of not returning to reading if I stopped for a little while. In fact, sometimes I can go days or even weeks without picking up the book if there's other boring guff to deal with.

I also struggle with the fact that fiction is 'made up' too. So much so that my main reading material tends to be Autobiographies and Memoirs also.

I know this is very loosely linked but I recently wrote a Blog on getting children to read at an early age. If anyone is interested, it's here

Lee Slator said...

I too have that fear of not returning to reading if I stopped for a little while. In fact, sometimes I can go days or even weeks without picking up the book if there's other boring guff to deal with.

I also struggle with the fact that fiction is 'made up' too. So much so that my main reading material tends to be Autobiographies and Memoirs also.

I know this is very loosely linked but I recently wrote a Blog on getting children to read at an early age. If anyone is interested, it's here