I used to be a voracious reader. I read a lot. The story I always tell of primary school is that I was upset when I ran out of books to read because they wouldn’t let me read further than 3 years ahead of anyone else. Also of being shooed out of the classroom at playtime to go out and get some fresh air when I was huddled under a table reading.
And right through my teenage years, student years, years at work – I was an avid reader. Tended to stick to the same genres (SciFi/Fantasy mostly) and same trusted authors (Niven and Pratchett).
When I quit my last job and was unemployed for 5 months I read a lot and had started to branch out. Read a lot of books on spec. Got into sort of boys chick lit (Mike Gayle) and other stuff not necessarily just in the SF aisle of Waterstones.
But at some point, some point after I moved down here I think, I slowed down. Then pretty much stopped. I’ve read in the last 7 years the number of books I’d’ve read in 6 months 10-15 years ago.
Why? Well it’s tempting to blame M. Not blame blame, just that talking to her fills the end of day slot where I used to do most of my reading. But that would be unfair, because apart from anything else it’s inaccurate. 2 or 3 years before I even met M. I had replaced reading with watching TV and chatting on the internet until late and then collapsing into bed. Often with the aid of alcohol that ensured I was too “sleepy” to read. This was about the time I became a Buffy fan and so watching DVDs and TV was my new “hobby/obsession”.
So I got out of the habit of reading. Which is a shame. I was never a fast reader but sheer enthusiasm meant I would get through quite a few books because I was reading every day. Not any more. Days, weeks, months went by and I wouldn’t complete a new chapter in whatever I had officially “on the go”.
I am being a little unfair on myself because in many ways I did as much reading as I ever did – it was just not books, it was the internet. Newsgroups, web forums, blogs. I was reading these every day. And with my TV/DVD consumption it didn’t leave much time for books.
And the sad thing is that it became harder to read through lack of practice. I used to have a certain anal obsession with never starting a new book before finishing the old one. An obsession that could lead to me “stalling” on an uninteresting book. But I would force myself to finish them or – in rare drastic cases – write them off. That discipline of persevering through the boring bits was something I’d let slip. Which is a shame because I like the idea of being someone who reads a lot, someone who absorbs different ideas and perspectives. But to do that you have to read stuff you’re not especially interested in or enjoying. But then it becomes part of your experience, part of the background reading against which really good books shine. So if I read a thriller I can compare it to all the other thrillers I’ve read and see what it did differently that did or didn’t work. What the cliches of a genre are and why they work. That kind of thing.
Also of course there’s the fact that many books take a while to get going. I just finished “We Need To Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver which takes at least 50 pages before anything interesting happens and probably 300 to get to the really gripping stuff.
So I’m trying to get back into reading. I’m forcing myself to finish books. I have my old pile of unread books (even though my earlier “reading” years I’ve nearly always acquired new books more quickly than I’ve finished reading them. The general rule would be to avoid bookshops until the unread pile got below 20 or so.) and I’ve also “joined” the Ship of Fools book group. Actually I suppose I started before Christmas with Hogfather which I’ve had for a decade but not read and which was being adapted for TV. I wanted to read the book first – which I managed.
I then re-visited the 5th Harry Potter book – which I picked up about a year ago after seeing the film of the 4th, read about 100 pages on a long train journey and then put down never to be picked up. Well not never, I picked it up again and finished it before reading “Kevin” for the book group. Because there was a deadline for the start of discussions I wanted to finish HP5 quickly and then read Kevin. I had about 2 1/2 weeks to do that. HP5 is 976 pages, Kevin is 468. I did it by working out how many pages per day I had to read, with longer allowances for weekends. M. laughs at me because she’ll ask me how I’m getting on in my book and I’ll say “page 276” which isn’t as informative as “the bit where Harry…” (she’s a HP fan so would know the book) or “about half-way, it’s just starting to get really good”.
But I kind of cherish my page numbers because they are a sign of progress towards finishing another book. And finishing another book is an achievement in itself but also a step (back) to being a “reader” again.