Before the advent of social media and reality TV shows my addiction back in the noughties (how I despise that term!) was reading books.
I was in the throes of a Degree at University that was not a fit for my ambition or interest and reading novels was a form of escapism that catapulted me off to new lands where I’d battle the Five Armies of Middle Earth, accompany Sancho Panza and Don Quixote on their madcap adventures or lurk the hallways of Vlad Dracula‘s castle.
My Dad was a bit of a bookworm in his day and stowed away many of the Classic’s in the attic which I decided to dust down and take a look at. Missing sleeve covers and lack of blurb didn’t curtail my enthusiasm as some of the titles I’d heard of before in some distant faraway place in my memory.
So began several years of getting up close and personal with many of the most distinguished writers of our history, battling behemoth works like War and Peace, LOTR, The Count of Monte Cristo and a surprising fascination in Russian literature borne from reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
The pages seemed to come alive and the time I dedicated to reading in quietude, free of distraction was time well spent. Those characters still nudge into memory a decade later as I watch a poorly translated big screen adaptation which typically pales in comparison.
I read anything I could get my hands on in those days. Some real stinkers too. I don’t mind reading bad novels up to a point because it really makes the good writers shine brighter, and you have a real appreciation for their artistry.
In recent years, it seems like time has become limited or so it seems that way.
Work stress is a big killer of creativity and has attributed to my own absence on this blog in recent weeks. The question is, what do you do with the time you have left in the evenings? My reading material lately has probably been weighted 80-20% in favour of non-fiction. This I can dip in and out of quite easily and suits my current lifestyle and reading habits which are infrequent and varied.
That being said, the time I dedicate to reading fiction is scarce and skimming. My concentration isn’t as strong as it once was regardless of how incredible the novel is. I think in many cases the fault is in the reader – we can’t invest our attention and time to a book unless it is another disposable chick-lit, connect-the-dots thriller.
TV is the biggest time suck there is. Groucho Marx said it best:
I visited a second hand book store today and in the bargain basement were stacks of the Classic novels. It’s such a shame that there doesn’t seem to be a market for such books when the likes of E.L. James of 50 Shades Fame or Lee Child‘s Jack Reacher series are barometer’s of success. The number of copy cats this has spawned is immeasurable and ultimately the same crap will continue to be peddled out to the masses who will hoover it up.
I ended up buying one of the classics for the cost of a small coffee, because I’m keen to get stuck into the BBC Big Read’s Top 100 list which I mentioned on a previous blog post. It took a few minutes of reading before I felt a facebook notification beep in my pocket and therein lies the rub.
To really lose yourself in a good book you need to have patience, be free of distraction and invest the time each day to re-enter that world.
If more people did that while they gave their attention to the substandard novels already out there, I think they’d suddenly realise how one dimensional those characters and worlds really are and how their imagination could run wild by picking up something a little richer and interesting.