An attempt at deeper reading

In recent months there’s been a sense of something growing in me, a dissatisfaction, a sense of needing to dig deeper into things. I think this feeling is a consequence of many things. The political environment is disturbing, there’s a trend towards skimming the surface as news articles grow shorter and more hysterical, and political opinions shrink to 140 characters or a pithy slogan (“Brexit means Brexit”!) and the idea of dialogue or nuance slips increasingly into the distance. My work pattern means that I can no longer commit to a reliable working week and as I read on my commute my reading commitment has become sporadic and sketchy. I feel like my mind is heading that way too. Since I had my bout of shingles I’ve found my concentration span more limited, and this experience has extended into everything. Suddenly I’m like my cat, distracted by whatever is wriggling and in motion. I am in the grip of the ‘lure of the new’ (with thanks to Susan from alifeinbooks for that beautiful turn of phrase). I am dissatisfied with myself. I don’t feel like I’m learning and neither do I feel like I’m connecting with things. I am letting things sway and influence me, without making any deep connections. I am not exploring or puzzling. I am taking things in, putting them aside and moving on to the next thing without taking the time or the effort to really get to know anything. Consequently my thought processes, my attainment and my appreciation has become superficial. That’s not how I want to be. I’ve used the eating metaphor before, but what I need is nourishing food not fast food. And I need to switch to nourishing food for the rest of my days, because in the long-run it’s the life affirming choice.

Since I read How to be a Heroine I’ve been giving this some serious thought. I know I need to do something, and I think it probably needs to be quite drastic. I’ve bought a fair amount of books recently, enough books to keep me going for months I think, and I can’t keep doing that. There’s no point to it. They go onto my shelves and I don’t get around to reading them. Meanwhile I borrow books from the library, buy more books and then have to offload some because there’s nowhere to put them. I imagine this is quite a familiar story to those regular readers out there. I see a new book and think ‘oooooh, I must read that’ and then I do and the books I thought that about a couple of weeks back don’t get read for years. And books I have read and which I’ve loved never get re-read. I used to re-read a lot. As a child I re-read obsessively, and re-reading adds an extra dimension to the book, to my understanding and appreciation of a book. Of course as a child I re-read a lot because I didn’t have the resources to buy like I do now. So perhaps if I didn’t allow myself to buy books, I might get around to re-reading again.

All of this has led to a plan, and this is my plan. There are three key things I need to do.

Stop buying books (sorry, publishing houses)

Much much easier said than done. I am not very good at not buying books; I’ve tried it before and I’ve managed to stop buying for a little while and then I go mad crazy and buy a bunch more. I’ve managed to slow myself down by committing not to buy until after I’ve completed a TBR pile and that kind of worked, but as mentioned I need to do something more drastic. So this is my commitment: in 2017 I will not buy books. Yes, you read that right. No book buying in 2017. Well, hmm, with one tiny qualification. My Mum always buys me a book token for my birthday and my birthday is in late December, so I will allow myself to spend my book token. But that’s all. No sneaky second-hand purchases, no impulse buying in Waterstones. I need to stop buying books. The only way to do it, I think, is by going cold turkey. Because I’ve tried other methods and it simply didn’t work. I haven’t had the heart to work out how much I spend on books each year (though it’s going to be a lot of money) so I’m assuming that it’s about £40 a month and I’m going to save that money instead. Each month I don’t buy books, that’s some money in the bank. A double benefit.

Do some re-reading

My second commitment is that I will re-read a book at least once a month. I rarely get chance to re-read because I’m always moving onto the next book and the next book. I love re-reading. There is something in the familiarity that adds to the experience. I notice things I didn’t notice before. I appreciate things I didn’t appreciate before. Twelve re-reads is a massive improvement on where I am now, and the more I think about it the more I like the sound of it. In fact, there are so many books I’d like to re-read that twelve might not be enough. This, I think, is the most exciting part of the challenge.

Read less

Yes, it’s a weird idea isn’t it? I am going to read less. My aim is to read only one book per week, fifty-two books in a year. If I read more than that, I’m failing. If I read a short book, I can read it again or I can read something longer that takes longer than a week to read. This will barely make a dent in my massive TBR pile, particularly if some of those books are re-reads. It will also slow down my blogging, but that’s okay. If I read less, and can break the lure of the new, then my TBR pile will stop growing and if it stops growing, it will have chance to start to shrink. I feel like if I can take away the sense of rush about reading, I can read at a more leisurely pace. I’m not pushing myself at breakneck speed to the next book, but instead spending some time focusing on the one in my hands. Which is what I used to do. I also thought about not using the library anymore, but I’m not going to do that. In this current climate, library use keeps them open. It justifies them. I think it would be wrong to give it up. It’s also a safety valve. If I’m tempted to buy a book, maybe I should borrow it instead. And if I read it, good. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter. And if the library doesn’t have it I’ll just have to wait and in that waiting maybe the desire to acquire will dissipate.

I’m not sure this plan will work, I’m not sure any plan will work (I am a consummate starter of plans, most of which fail) but I’m going to give it a shot. If I can master the twin temptations of the next read and the speed read then perhaps deeper reading will follow. I need to be in less of a rush, but only by addressing the causes of the rush can I succeed. I’m not going to start until 2017. Before then I’m committing to not buying books, I don’t need to buy anything before year end. But the slow reading and re-reading will begin in January. To help myself, I’m thinking about picking my first 4 books so I can get to the end of January with a clear plan. Then I can  see how it goes. I’ll pick them closer to the time, but between now and then perhaps I can shrink my TBR pile a little further.

I love books. I love reading. Reading and books have been the cornerstone of my life for as long as I can remember. But I think what I’m trying to remember, trying to listen to that little voice I’ve pushed to the back of my head, is that I don’t need to evidence or express that love through quantity. Love has many forms, and I have always been the kind of person who loves selectively but extremely deeply. My dissatisfaction, I think, is that I have stopped being true to myself. I can love books, and not read every book. I’ve been distracted, but now I need to re-focus.

I’d be very interested in what my fellow readers think. Do you think this is a reasonable plan? I think I might need some help to stay on track, so if anyone is willing to help me along that assistance would be gratefully received.

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About bookbii

I'm an ordinary woman living an ordinary life in an ordinary place, and it is quietly wonderful
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18 Responses to An attempt at deeper reading

  1. I think this is an excellent plan!

  2. As you know, I’m firmly in the grip of the lure of the new thanks to many years working in the book trade so there’s no hope for me but I applaud your plan, Belinda. I may not be capable of pursuing it myself but I’m more than happy to cheer from the sidelines if that would help.

    • bookbii says:

      I don’t have the excuse of the book trade, but I completely understand the strength of that grip! But if I listen to myself, if I listen to the stories that mean the most to me, most of them have been to do with absence, space, quietness and my reading is quite the opposite. There’s a line in a poem by Mark Strand that goes like this: “more is less, I long for more” and everytime I read it it’s like a shock because it feels very true to me. Anyway, maybe it won’t work, but I’ll learn something from the attempt. And your cheering from the sidelines will be much appreciated. Those books to look out for blogs are going to be an absolute temptation!

  3. naomifrisby says:

    This resonates so much with me, particularly the desire to re-read. I’ve re-read a few things recently (due to them being shortlisted for prizes) and it was such a rewarding experience. I’m determined to re-read more and am tempted to join you in your entire endeavor.

    • bookbii says:

      Thanks Naomi, I agree with you that re-reading is so rewarding. I think books, especially good books, are so layered you can’t possibly take it in all at once. I’d be very interested if you decide to join in. I’m not sure I’ll manage to stop buying books, but am determined to give it a go.

  4. lauratfrey says:

    I did something similar this year, for similar reasons: https://reading-in-bed.com/2016/01/06/on-manifestos/

    I also need to set hard and fast rules. No “reading less” I had to set a limit! I also didn’t buy any books for the first three months, though I cheated and ordered a bunch just before Jan 1. 🙂

    Good luck! I’ll sum up my experiences soon, but it’s been good. I don’t know how successful I was at reading “deeper” but I think I got more out of some books, and just slowed down a bit in general.

    • bookbii says:

      Oh I love your blog (glad I didn’t make mine a manifesto 😉 ). I’ll be very interested to read your summation. My limit is 52, but if I read less than that all the better. I’m also going to stop reading more than one book at a time; just one book which I take my time over. It has got to be better than the crazy relentless drive for the next book.

  5. JacquiWine says:

    I think you’re in the best position to be able to take a view on what’s going to work for you in terms of reading plans, but quality over quantity can only be a good thing. Wishing you all the best with your endeavours, Belinda – I’ll be interested to hear how it goes.

  6. roughghosts says:

    I have read less (slower, more distractedly) than before this year. Book buying hasn’t abated, but I am not necessarily buying only new books. It has been a year of tremendous stress. But what I has really changed is that I have started writing critical reviews for a number of literary journals. The books I review are subjected to very careful reading–often more than once—and I have been known to read another book or do extensive research to better critique the work. I get to know a book quite well. To write a 2500 word critical review I am always thinking: “what is interesting about what the author is trying to do here?” “What can a writer learn about writing?” It’s demanding but highly rewarding. Suffice to say I have to like the book enough to read that intensely (and since I’m rarely paid for this I can chose my books and back out if I really hate something). This reading method has filtered into my “for fun” reading. But it has also made me tired of always looking at “new” books, and wanting instead to fill up gaps in my reading when left to my own devices!

    • bookbii says:

      That’s a really interesting comment. I’ve also been thinking about how, if I have more time, I might be able to dig into the book a bit more, understand it better. I’m not sure if it will improve my reviews or not, but it feels like a worthwhile endeavour to slow down.

  7. juliana says:

    This really resonates with me, Belinda. I’ve been thinking about reading less and trying to review every book I read. It’s difficult, because usually when I finish a book I am restless until I begin another. 😛 Good luck with your plans! 🙂

    • bookbii says:

      Thanks Juliana. I am taking it a little slower, part forced by the need to prepare for Christmas, but it’s enjoyable so far. I know what you mean about that restlessness though, I think that will be the biggest challenge!

  8. Arriving to this late, playing catch up, but it really resonates with my own plans for 2017. I’m trying to get a healthier balance between the TBR pile v new purchases (don’t think i could go completely cold turkey so will devise small allowance) and want to reread to explore narrative techniques for my own writing… agree reading slower and deeper is key but have a feeling I will read more not less because if I’m finding it more rewarding I will probably spend more time doing it.

    Wishing you well in your endeavours … and if it helps I’ll be watching you closely🤓😉

    • bookbii says:

      Thanks Poppy. I don’t think it will be easy, but if I don’t put the reins on I think I risk turning myself off reading entirely. It has felt like a routine, rather than a pleasure.

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