As I type this, I'm in New York City for the Edgar awards tomorrow night ... so my title makes reference to a famous book by a wonderfully prescient and wise theater critic by the name of Walter Kerr, who was very much a New Yorker.
The Decline of Pleasure, though written in the '60s, is right on target with the 21st century, and gets to the heart of why other countries seem to embrace the idea of pleasure as a goal, while Americans remain suspicious of it.
It probably wouldn't surprise you that Kerr believed the puritanical underpinnings of the American psyche (you know, the whole violence=good, nudity=bad thing)--combined with a strongly philosophical embrace of Utilitarianism during the nineteenth and early 20th century-- rendered us incapable of truly savoring pleasure.
We either must find a use (usually related to money) for whatever we do--or we divert ourselves with silly, time-wasting activity (hey, anybody see that funny YouTube video with Shatner singing Total Eclipse of the Heart? ... but I digress).
This is one explanation of the relative popularity of non-fiction to fiction books ... the former are more easily labeled "utilitarian", and therefore worth buying and reading.
So ... to get back to the actual question -- I, too, confess that my reading habits are suffering from a decline of pleasure, and for utilitarian reasons, too. My time is no longer my own--I owe books to my publisher, articles to blogs, signings to bookstores. All "pure pleasure" activities have been severely truncated ... if not eliminated. No museum wandering, no spontaneous travel. Everything--including my reading--has been sort of swallowed up by the all-consuming obligation--and uber-pleasure, if you will--of writerly commitments.
I don't read fiction when I'm heads-down on finishing a book--I don't want that world to rub off on mine. So some of the year is eliminated already. And then there are books I need to read for responsibilities like Edgar judging, which I did last year ... books that I must make time for. My TBR pile focuses on friends' works, and novels to blurb go to the top--also with top priority scheduling. And, of course, all the myriad books, newspapers, articles and other bits and bobs I read as part of research.
Now, the good news is that this is all fun ... but those carefree days of wandering and wondering are gone. The idea of simply picking up a book and reading it without any other thought than that it might be enjoyable ... well, it just won't work.
I'm too busy with the uber-pleasure of being a writer and all that that entails.
But one of these days, I will take a vacation ... somewhere with a beach ... and a big stack of books I buy at an airport. And rediscover some of that old sense of pleasure ...