Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The pendulum swings

Here's the thing I've had to accept about my life right now: I don't have as much time to read. I just don't. Lives are messy, complicated beasts that take up our time in different ways. Mine right now is filled with stress, work, extremely difficult studies, and personal things. This is how it goes. Reading comes second to school, comes second to health, comes second to a lot of things. And so reading has been bumped down many slots on the stuff-that-is-important list. That doesn't mean I've stopped reading altogether. It just means that when I do read, I don't have quite the time or the same temperament for it that I might have once had. It also means that I have less time to write reviews, or my thoughts on publishing, or my thoughts on the book world altogether. Alas.

I often talk about how I don't like setting goals for my reading, or reading according to some sort of plan, but the truth is that I inevitably don't follow my own advice. I may not set a direct reading plan, but I have that rough sketch, those "guidelines" and quiet hidden quotas that shape my reading from behind the scenes. It does matter to me, despite the fact that I wish it wouldn't.

These quotas exist because at the end of the day I have a general life-goal from reading. And that goal is to read far and wide. I watch what books I read to make sure I don't get caught up in one genre too exclusively, or wrapped up in one very limited mindset, or just reading the default. I don't want to read books just because those are the ones that publishers felt were worth the strongest marketing. I don't want to read books that repeat themselves, that tell me the same story again and again. I want books that challenge my thinking, entertain me, excite me, and take me to new places, intellectually and maybe a bit more literally. This has made me branch out my reading much more than I ever could have imagined, ultimately leading me to many wonderful books.

But it also leads me to a lot of books that are, for lack of a better term, hard. And I don't really mean books with more complex vocabularies or darker stories or even necessarily a greater subtlety to their storytelling. Often, it's just literally a book that's harder to read. For example, a book in Hebrew. Or a particularly thick tome. Or the type of book that requires perfect concentration for four hours while you devour it in one go, while I can only give it fifteen minutes between classes. To be perfectly honest, many of the books I've read in the past year have been wholly unsatisfying, while many of the best have been the ones from the genres I tend least to visit. Some of the most "standard" books have proven to be the most innovative and exciting, while some of the most "impressive" books have turned out to be nothing more than overly ambitious messes.

The pendulum swings. When I was very young, I used to read a lot of fantasy. Later it was historical fiction, then the Classics, then a burst of young adult and "grown-up" fiction (mostly American). Then the growing power of translated literature, my desire to seek out the strange and the magical. And now? Now the pendulum looks like it's heading back towards all those old friends, to books that give me new angles from which to view the familiar. I still don't want to read the same books I've read many times before, but I also don't want to feel like reading is hard work. I don't want to feel like I'm forcing myself to read these huge post-modern "masterpieces" when I'm just not feeling it right now. When it turns out that a simple work of fiction in a genre I tend not to visit manages to suck me in for a whole day. But the pendulum swings, and I know that one day it will take me back to these books I'm currently setting aside. In the meantime though, I think I'm just going to have to take it "easier".

2 comments:

  1. It sounds like you need to opt for comfort reads for a bit as you've said, 'easier'. Books that require a lot of attention and time at once don't sound a good fit for where you are at the moment. But then it doesn't sound so bad, the sort of limitations you have, because it's enabling you to revisit past interests, and you can always get back to the harder books later :)

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  2. I've been going through a similar stretch because work has been so busy: I've had a little less time to read and most of what I've been reading has been easier than usual, too, because I'm so tired and distracted. It's interesting to see what I'm enjoying and how my patience levels differ... thick post-modern masterpieces are definitely out for me right now, too! I'll be glad when things get back to relative normal next week after my deadline. I hope you'll start to feel less pressed for time soon, too.

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