Things I Learned in 2013: The one about reading

You may be wondering what a woman of my age (viz, no longer in the first flush of youth) can have to learn about reading.  The answer is, apparently, plenty.

You see, last year, I discovered, about half-way through the year, that I wasn’t reading much. Books, that is.  I was reading things on the internet – and no, not just status updates and captions on cat pictures.  In the course of a couple of quasi-scientific studies I conducted on myself during the year, I found that most of the time I spent on the internet was reading proper article-type things – serious newsy ones and amusing ones and a lot to do with the craft and business of writing.

The internet has, in effect, become my newspaper, my professional journal and my very own comedy channel.

And that’s all well and good (although, as I said in the previous post, the time spent on that needs to be controlled).

But I wasn’t reading many novels.

This, I hardly need to say, is not good.  I am a novelist.  For a novelist not to read stories is like an artist eschewing galleries, or a musician deciding to wear earplugs 24/7.  It’s as necessary for a writer to read as it is for some who likes living to breathe.  And it has never been a problem before.

But I wasn’t doing it.

At first, it made no sense to me.  It wasn’t as though I didn’t have anything to read.  Since becoming a writer, I buy more books than I ever did before.  I don’t buy every book that my writing friends publish, but I buy a lot of them, with the result that I always have a TBR (To Be Read) pile that you could stagger an Olympic vaulter with.

But I eventually worked out that that was itself the problem.  Because I have so many writing friends and so many books on the TBR pile, reading was beginning to feel like a chore.  Until recently, I have never had a TBR pile.  I have always bought (or borrowed) the book, read it and moved onto the next one.  I didn’t buy or borrow the next one until I had finished what I had.  My book acquisition matched my consumption and was driven by whatever I fancied reading next.

But now, my book acquisition is driven by different factors and I can’t always keep up.  Not only that, what I buy doesn’t always reflect what I fancy reading at any given moment.  So I might have 10 books on my ereader that I haven’t read, but nothing that I want to read right now.  But because I have always read things in order of acquisition before, I felt as though I SHOULD read those before buying or reading something else.  And that goes double for books by friends, as I want to be able to tell them what I think of them.  (Tell my friends what I think of their books, that is.  Not what I think of ‘them’.  Never mind…)

The result was that I was beginning to resent my TBR pile.  It was making me feel guilty, by its very existence and whenever I didn’t feel like reading what was on it.  And since we humans are very good at avoiding things we find painful, this meant I was avoiding reading altogether.

So I told a bold step.  I told myself that was free to read whatever I wanted, whether or not it was on my TBR pile.  I let myself choose books the way I always had before – by whim and recommendation.  And – surprise, surprise – I have read more books in the three months since I made that decision than I did in the six months prior.  And that includes several that were on the TBR pile that I was avoiding.

So I guess the learning here that I need to listen to my own advice.  My Twitter description says that ‘life is serious, but reading should be fun’.  Well, quite.  This year, I’m going to read by that principle.  I’ll buy my friends’ books when they come out, but I’ll read them when the mood takes me.  And I’ll probably read more that I ever have!

Have you ever found yourself re-assessing your reading habits?

4 thoughts on “Things I Learned in 2013: The one about reading

  1. I have no reading habits.
    Like you say it’s what i feel and when I want! However, there are a lot of neat and interesting writers on-line, and I like to buy the novels for my reader because I can. Therefore, I can see how TBRs can become a pile.
    Of course , I just ignore it all and go design an “Art Gown”.
    Speaking of which, I’m inserting the tail into my next one which is for”Playing By The Rules”
    Okay … back to my gown!

  2. I concur absolutely, Imelda.. So hard fitting everything in nowadays and reading – once such an unfettered pleasure – is suddenly burdensome 😦 so many great online publications, so many good books…then there’s writing and Book Club books..!! One has to be disciplined and remain focused. 🙂

  3. I had problems with my TBR pile for a couple of years (love the name – now I know what to call it). I solved it unexpectedly when my sister gave me a Kindle as a present. One of the best features of the Kindle is the ‘download a sample’ option. It is especially useful for books I think I ought to read but don’t really feel like reading right now. It’s a form of window shopping that appeases my ‘literary conscience’ and allows me to spend money only on the books I really want to read right now.

  4. I hear ya! Have been doing the same, reading what I want, not what I think I should. It does mean some books in the TBR piles stay eternally at the bottom though. Not sure what that means , but I’m reading more as a result. Thanks Imelda, I no longer feel so guilty.

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