Thursday, October 18, 2018

Beautiful Boredom

Reading - We live in a world of TVs at the gas station, split screens, crawl lines, sound notifications, personal message alerts and a thousand other pipes feeding information direct to our over-stimulated brains. What's the place of books in all of that clamour? Do you worry about the future of reading?

By Catriona

I wish I could say that my reading isn't affected by the jingle and spangle all around, but I know it is. I started reading Wild Fire - Ann Cleeves' final Shetland novel - earlier this week and by page 35 I could feel myself wanting to look up houses for sale in Shetland, the better to immerse myself in . . . well, a daydream of Shetland life. Not in Ann's wonderful treat of a book.

I do my best, keeping my phone on silent and in another room from where I read, switching my laptop off when I'm not using it so that there's a delay in gratification if I turn to it (to look at houses for sale in Shetland, for example). But the very fact that this works distresses me. Shouldn't a small delay while a computer boots up be something I can deal with?

In the distant past, pre-smartphone, even pre-internet, and when there were four television channels with nothing much on any of them, I think I had a greater number of completely immersive reading experiences. I read Gone With The Wind in a day, in my jammies, cold and hungry but unable to stop. I read We Need To Talk About Kevin in the same way, except not cold because I stayed in bed. A whole day in bed, not ill - just reading. 

The alternative was boredom. The day I read GWTW, there were no other books I hadn't read in my house and the telly was broken. I can't imagine that now. (I can imagine the telly being broken. Neil dropped ours, moving it off the coffee table and we had to glue it back together.) But no other unread book? My current TBR pile could be fashioned into a functioning igloo if I knew a bit more about physics and compression stress.

These days, it's only at the beach in the summer with phones left behind in the hotel room or on the couch at Christmas with vacation responders on email and hiatus notices on social media that I get anywhere close to that kind of red-eyed, hay-haired, manic reading. And it's got to be the right sort of book. Familiar, dependable, accessible . . . Stephen King, Kate Atkinson, Anne Tyler, Lisa Scottoline.

Boxing Day Bliss. (That's turkey dripping on toast, btw.)

One of the reasons I love moderating panels (and I do) is for the enforced discipline of reading four or five books, no option to stop, no skimming, and on a deadline. More often than not there turns out to be treasure there. Kenneth Wishnia's The Red House, for instance. Or Terry Shames' A Killing At Cotton Hill. I discovered Ausma Zehanat Khan that way and Triss Stein too. 

But even while I acknowledge my luck in getting to read books and call it work, I still despise myself a little for having to trick myself into attentive and adventurous reading of the kind I used to do automatically every day. 

Is anyone else finding their attention diminishing and their patience fraying? Don't leave me hanging here thinking I'm the only one. And if anyone has hot tips for how to get that beautiful boredom back again, I'm all ears. Well, I'm half ears. The rest of me is checking Facebook. Gaahhhh!


Karen in Ohio said...

Very timely, Catriona, at least for how I've thought about reading lately.

My own reading has been very scattered this year. I rarely watch network TV, but have slogged through 12 seasons now of Midsomer Murders on Netflix since July. That has taken time from reading, for sure. But the biggest distraction is Houzz and Pinterest. We are building a new home, and searching the Internet for ideas has consumed me for months. (Seriously, it's like a sickness.)

Last night I was with a group of women and the conversation turned to reading. Only two of the other five read at all, one of whom reads mostly what her book club chooses each month. The other woman reads more, at least one book a week.

My mother makes up for them, though. She reads four or five books a week, bless her.

Leslie Karst said...

I too find that I haven't as much time for non-work-related reading during the day as I used to. Sigh... But no matter what I've done that day--or that night (i.e, how much wine I just consumed at that dinner party), I always set aside time at night to read before turning out the light. The problem is, now that I'm getting on in age, I can't seem to keep my eyes open as long as I used to. So sometimes that non-work-reading goes very slowly, indeed.

Jacki said...

I have been thinking about how I spend my time lately as well. I've done well on the reading front this year but I do reminisce about the days when I lounged around with nothing else to do but read a book. But now, I have a million other things to do and some of it is the persistent siren call of busyness. I have decided that starting in November (because my October is already booked up- ha!) that I will not be busy. I will immerse myself in work or in reading or a really good TV show. I'm done with being busy. We'll see if I can do it!! :)

Terry said...

So much to say about this post that I hardly know where to begin. First, I had a nice chat with someone yesterday who called you "brilliant," and reading this I have to agree once again--and not just because of your shout-out for my book. (Insert smile emoji). You managed to make this serious subject humorous as well as thoughtful.

I really think these days it isn't just media that is creating problems with staying focused. It's also the political climate. I'm looking back to those halcyon days in which I thought our country had moved past some ugly prejudices. It was a time when I could read and work at will, confident that well-meaning people were in charge of things. Calling that into question has made it harder for me to ignore the outside world.

I read a lot, and I think it helps to go "somewhere else" in a book. Like Karen, it's hard for me to imagine not reading at all.

Kathy Reel said...

My reading is down lately, and that bothers me more than I can say. I usually have no trouble reaching the Goodreads Reading Challenge that I set for myself each year, the number of books you think you'll read, but this year, even though Goodreads says I'm on schedule, I'm behind where I usually am. And not that reading is or should be a numbers game, but it just helps me set a good pace of how much I want or need to be reading. It's been a disruptive year in the sense that I've been by my myself for over 15 years and now my husband has retired and is home. Well, he's still doing some part-time, being gone a couple of weeks here and there. I know that sounds awful to say that my husband being home is disruptive, but he's not a reader, and it makes a challenging effort to spend time doing what I consider a valuable use of time versus his always being up doing something. Then, there is the computer, especially FB, that is so tempting and such a distraction to my reading. Throw in all the Netflix series that people talk about and me thinking I should check them out, and my reading is in a cracking mess of a state. I do get my review reads accomplished on time, but I have got to do more to straighten out my reading time.

Lyda McPherson said...

Hi ya! Great timing on the topic of your post. I have been doing a great deal more reading lately. Your question has made me ask myself if I'm enjoying my reading time as much as I used to. After some thought I would have to say that what is missing is a sense of "leisure" and an actual physical space reserved for "leisurely reading'.
When I downsized I lost the secluded patio with the the comfy chaise lounge and the second bedroom that I used for my crafting, reading corner room.
Now that the dining area of my apartment is my office and now that I work at home, I find that it is difficult for me to settle in with a book. I feel the tug of unfinished work projects just a mere 7 feet away.
Then there is the love/hate relationship with my kindle. While I like that I can carry several books simultaneously and the books are slightly less expensive (or free) on the kindle, it is ELECTRONIC! I equate electronic with a tool used to accomplish "work".
So, now that I've got that sorted I'm off to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom. There has to be a way I can squeeze a comfy reading chair into that space. Liza Doolittle got it right.

LPete said...

I read with the tv on in the background, usually tuned to ID network. I used to teach online courses the same way. As a retired person, I'm able to read four or five books a week. In fact, my biggest expense each month is for the books from Amazon, even with Kindle Unlimited and free First Read books. I read historical fiction, mystery, thrillers and literary fiction. I usually buy hardbacks for my nonfiction reading since illustrations and photos are so much more enjoyable on the actual page. (For example, Walter Isaacson's Leonardo is best enjoyed in hardback since the illustrations are so beautiful.) I read from my mother's bookshelf beginning at an early age because it was readily available, especially in the summers when the school library was closed. I read Gone with the Wind when I was twelve years old and The Caine Mutiny when I was fourteen. I've read all of Ann Cleeves books and I particularly love the first three books in the Shetland series. Of course, Catriona's books are among my favorites. I'm waiting now for the next Dandy Gilver book, but I also love the stand alones. I admit that I was not able to read so much when my children were small, but now I have time and all the books in the world!

Unknown said...

My reading is woefully down too. I used to read eighty books a year. These days I go to bed an hour earlier so I can read. My bedroom is a tech-free zone (no TV and phone left downstairs).

Ann said...

I read about 3-4 hours a days, always in bed, no computer, no TV, phone turned off. It is my escape from everything. I don’t keep track of numbers, and I usually have 2-3 books going at once. That way if one gets too heavy or too slow or too anything, I can switch. I do most of my reading on my Kindle and you don’t want to know what the amazon bill is! Oh. And I adore you.

Susan C Shea said...

As Leslie said, saving reading for pleasure for bedtime means it competes with the need for sleep. But I feel guilty if I read for pleasure during the day. Facebook - yes, terrible time waste. Political gnashing of teeth, small attempts to help change the status quo - not wasted time, I hope, but takes time and energy. I've watched more TV in recent years, evening streaming shows. And then there's writing my own books, which can fall somewhere down the list in priorities and shouldn't. But I keep buying books, so the TBR stacks and stacks keep rising. I dunno...but I don't like this and I'm glad you're talking about skewed priorities!

catriona said...

I don't have that guilt about reading in the day time. Every morning I drink a pot of coffee sitting up in bed reading a novel, for up to an hour. But yes, I think the political dumpster fire here (and the Brexit nonsense there) are making it worse than ever at the moment. Lisa, I just went and counted up my year's total and it's 54 so far. I'd need to dig out diaries from years gone by but it seems light. And I love the idea of a tech-free bedroom.

Susan C Shea said...

I think I might emulate that hour in bed with coffee and a good book. Right now, I have an Americano while reading 2 national papers on the cell phone, a newspaper habit that started in earnest after the 2016 election. "What fresh hell" delivered with the coffee! But it would be healthier and more pleasurable to be reading any of the scores of books calling to me!

Maggie King said...

Carving out time for writing and reading is definitely a challenge. During the week I get about 30 minutes/days to read, more time on the weekends. Social media and the political climate definitely pull me in several directions. That said, last Thanksgiving I started War and Peace. It took me two months to finish it, but I did!