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.
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.