I don’t know that anybody actually makes New Year's resolutions. And if they do, it’s a righteous certainty they don’t keep to them. So I did not resolve to read more novels this year. I just thought I would try. Because it’s a good idea.
Jo Tovey wrote a beautiful piece in the Grauniad a few weeks ago about losing her ability to read novels:
It was early September and I had only just finished a novel I began in April. In the same amount of time the first Gulf war was almost over.
For months the novel sat atop a mounting pile of other, unread books on my bedside table, a stack that started as aspirational but grew into a tower of shame.
It wasn’t that I disliked what I was reading (Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room). But almost every night it was pitched in battle against powerful forces – my phone, my post-work bleariness and my internet-enfeebled attention span – and the book was losing.
Reading books was something Jo once did willingly and joyfully. But she confessed that as she spent more of her life online, reading books became harder.
Testify wordsister. I read enormous volumes every day. A lot of it consists of my own raw first drafts, waiting for the firm slap of editorial correction, but even more is the huge piles of reading matter I have to get through for research.
Fiction gets squeezed out on that end, but also as JT admitted, by the constant, distracting screech of the online. And especially of worthless social media. I’ve been pretty good at cutting back on that, mostly to preserve time and attention for work. I’ve also been more consciously diligent about posting here, rather than wasting time with blipverts like Facebook posts or tweets.
But reading fiction really is the gold standard for taking a true break from the world. I like TV. I love that we’re in a golden age right now. I hope to do some work there. But streaming an hour or two of The Witcher is not as relaxing as removing myself from this veil of fire and tears by reading an hour of, say, The Legacy of Ghosts; Alicia Wanstall-Burke’s follow up to The Blood of Heirs.
I did this last night, sitting in the library, running a timer, thinking I’d make myself read for an hour before firing up Netflix. I startled a little when the timer went off because I’d become lost in the story again. (I read it quickly, late last year to provide a cover quote). A small band of adventurers was adventurin’ through a frozen wilderness beset by doubts about their quest and the tyranny of bitey monsters.
It was vividly written and so far removed from the sorrows of the real day (with the land on fire and Smoko playing at crippled King Théoden) that I found that hour to be genuinely therapeutic. It was, as Jo Tovey attested, a literal joy to read and to be reading.
Anyway, long story short, I’m going to try read for an hour a day. Actually read. Audiobooks, which I listen to in the car, don’t count. Fiction only. And not necessarily literature. There’s no need to go wild here. Because I would inevitably fail at this if I didn’t approach it mindfully, I’m going to time track my reading, the same way I do writing. We’ll see how that works.
In line my renewed commitment to longer form blogging I’ll also try to post reviews as I finish.