Monday, March 26, 2012
Reading While You Have a Life
From the period I learnt to read up to my teenage years, reading has always been a great love of mine. If I wasn't out, in school or doing chores, you would find me lying on my bed reading. It was my favourite thing to do in the world, followed closely by writing stories.
Post-secondary school, it has been extremely difficult for me to find time to read. I know that I'm far from alone in this problem. For many years, I stuck to reading magazines for my leisure reading, because the bite-size columns and articles were the best I could manage. Had you given me anything longer than a 5-page article, I would be stuck on the second page for like ever. Not only did I find it near impossible to make out time for reading, my attention span had reduced to that of a hyper-active child and after a minute or, at best, three, my wandered off on its own trajectory.
So, what to do when you really love to read and you have shelves largely full of unread books, which look so mouth-wateringly tantalising with the inviting covers and the promise of a consuming story?
Well, I can't say I've mastered the art of reading as an adult yet, but I'm starting to figure out ways in which I can read more.
1. Pick books that truly interest you: While this might seem obvious, we sometimes select books that we think we should read - not because we have any interest in its themes, but because it's in fashion. A recent example for me is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. On a trip to New York City two years ago, I saw everyone and their dog carrying this book and its sequels everywhere I turned. I couldn't make out what the book could be about and didn't even bother to find out (I run away from fads). When I did learn that they were crime novels, I bought the first one and read it. The first third of the book was frankly hard work, but yet I persisted, because "Everyone says this is a masterpiece. Everyone can't be wrong."
Well, let's just say that they were borderline. An (eventually) engaging book it was, a masterpiece it was not. A year and half after completing the book, I am yet to get through the rest of the series.
2. Explore new genres and authors: This keeps your reading life very fresh and exciting. I’ve always had some kind of rhythm to my reading. In university I read A Suitable Boy and from there embarked on a literary journey through the best (and sometimes not so great) writing from and influenced by the Indian sub-continent. I discovered some now favourites, like Anita Desai (especially her Clear Light of Day), Rohinton Mistry, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, R.K. Narayan and Jhumpa Lahiri. Eventually, I overdosed on writing influenced by India and struggled to finish any new books.
So now, I try new writers and genres as I feel like. Recent discoveries include Cormac McCarthy and Lynda LaPlante. I don’t try to read all their books in one fell swoop (although if I enjoy one, it motivates me to want to read their other books). So, I’m slowly working my way through the bibliographies of LaPlante and McCarthy, but not all at once. I intersperse their books with others.
3. At the same time, know what you like: This may or may not apply or help you. For me, even if I’ve never read the work of a particular writer, by reading the synopsis I tend to know if I will like it or not (assuming it’s written well). I generally like books by women with strong female characters and which explore issues that particularly affect women. So, chances are high that I will enjoy a book by Margaret Atwood or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Doris Lessing.
4. Always carry a book with you: Amazingly, it took me years to discover that the pockets of minutes or hours I had when waiting for someone or something or in a car or bus could be put to much better use than staring off into space. Since then, I’ve been able to utilize these periods more productively and inched my way through more books.
5. Don’t force yourself to get through a book that has proven to be uninteresting and uninspiring. This is similar, but not the same as the first pointer on this list. Some books will require you to push through, before they yield any payoffs. However, with others, the dullness or pomposity of the writing never lets up. I used to believe that once I started a book, I needed to see it through. Now I say: Cut your losses and move on to something else. Life is too short!
Bear in mind that for various reasons, some books just might not appeal or resonate with you at a particular point in time. Then you pick them up later and you think: Fantastic book! What took me so long to finish this gem?
This was the case with me with Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World. I struggled with the early chapters with a commensurate amount of huffing and puffing. After carrying it around for a few months, I put it aside. About 2 years later, I picked it up and loved it! After that, I looked for every Lionel Shriver book I could find.
6. Make it a Habit: I find that making a conscious effort to read at least a few pages very day helps it to become a habit for me. Going one step further, aside from the pages of reading I snatch during the day, my longest block for reading is usually just before I sleep. So, I try to make it a habit to close my laptop and stop working about 2 hours before I intend to sleep, so that I can read. I am not really successful with this, I must admit. That laptop holds a pot pourri of mysteries, which keep me spellbound for far too long. But the most important thing is that I do try. ☺
Different things work for each of us. For some of us, it helps to keep to some kind of rules to force us to read (maybe those of us who are easily lured by other media and work). For others, these rules are just too much and take away from the pleasure of reading.
So I say, do what works for you, whatever that might be.