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My Reading “Problem”

Photo credit: -Georg- via photopin cc

Photo credit: -Georg- via photopin cc

(Nota bene:  Alright, I know I haven’t posted in over six months. And there’ll probably be a post about that sometime in the future. But this isn’t it.)

Hi. My name is Philip and I’m a bookaholic. Or biblioholic. Certainly a bibliophile. In the simplest terms, a lover of books who’s addicted to reading.

Were I retired and had no other interests or responsibilities in my life, this probably wouldn’t be a significant issue. Unfortunately, I’m far from retired and, like most spouses / parents / employees, have responsibilities coming out of my eyeballs.

Over the years of trying to self-analyze my reading “problem,” I’ve come up with any number of reasons why I just can’t seem to live without books.

  1. I love to learn new things and see the world from new perspectives. Books — fiction and non-fiction — are constant teachers.
  2. I love the way words fit together when an author is truly “on” his or her game. When you get that shiver down your spine as you read a sentence that “sings” out to you. And you think to yourself that there could have been no better way for these particular letters / words / ideas to be strung together to form such a unique, insightful narrative.

If I’m completely truthful with myself, however, some of the other reasons that I love to read so much appear rather more problematic.

  1. Apparently those things that I find most pleasurable in life seem tend toward the lazy and voyeuristic. Reading is easy. It involves nothing more than my ass in a chair — usually with a beverage of some sort. It’s not something that causes me to exert myself in any meaningful way, like cleaning the ice out of the driveway or doing the taxes would (both of which I should actually be doing now), or generally attempting to live my life. It’s escapism at its very best. The more time I can spend as a spectator reading about the trials and tribulations of other people’s lives, the less time and energy I will have to invest in trying to tame my own.
  2. Control. Imagine an entire world neatly encased between two covers. Things start to get uncomfortable? Messy? Close the book and put it back on the shelf. Now that’s a level of control I’d like to be able to achieve in “real” life!
  3. The search for . . . wait for it . . . “The Meaning of Life” (yeah, sorry, I know it’s a difficult concept to express sans irony, but what’s a body to do?); the Platonic ideal behind the very nature of existence itself. Try as I might, I simply can’t help but think that if I stuff enough information / images / stories into my head, some strange alchemy will eventually take control of my pulsing neural pathways and generate the answer for me. (Sorry, I mean “The Answer,” of course.) That thinking for long enough with the brains of others will eventually cause something to “click” in my own. That the veil will be lifted and I’ll finally “get it.” That I’ll truly, definitively solve for “X”. (Geez, that’s a lot of “air quotes”, isn’t it? This might be a good indication that I’m not actually “on to something” here.)

None of the above, I suppose, represent actual conscious strategies in any meaningful sense, but in seeking to reverse engineer why he hell I’m so addicted to reading, I can’t help but think it must be something along those lines. Accept it as a sort of grasping description of an overpowering compulsion.

It’s not even that I spend extensive swaths of time actually reading. I only really read — for myself, for pleasure, that is — about an hour a day or so all told (usually at bedtime). And maybe an hour or two more on weekends and holidays. But my weakness is that I’m not what you’d call a disciplined reader, at least if you define a disciplined reader as a person who finishes one book before moving on to the next. I’ve got a bit of a biblio-ADD thing going on when it comes to reading: the real challenge for me is that I simply can’t read just a single book at a time.

Right now, for example, I have the following books on the go on my bedside table: Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book (which seems oddly familiar enough that I think I’m actually reading it for the second time), Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves (which I’m reading on the strength of her first book, The Historian, but now, more than halfway through, am simply not loving as much), Robertson Davies’ The Salterton Trilogy (what a storyteller!), Victor Del Arbol’s The Sadness of the Samurai (because it was on sale in the remaindered bin a couple of weeks ago and the cover blurbs seemed to suggest the story was strongly Zafon-esque), and Elanor Catton’s The Luminaries (what an impressively-elaborated cast of characters!)

If that’s not enough, in the living room beside the chesterfield — my favorite spot to stretch out and read on the weekend — I have Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind (which I’m reading for the umpteenth time) and an audiobook of Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle (yet another compelling storyteller, and a first-time Canadian novelist at that).

On the counter in the kitchen (’cause I just got them out of the library yesterday and haven’t had time to transfer them bedside yet) are S.J. Parris’ Sacrilege, Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve (both of which I’ve already started), as well as John Fleming’s The Dark Side of the Enlightenment and George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral.

And finally, on the desk in my home office, a copy of Peter Watson’s The Age of Atheists which I’ve only barely started but am dying to dive into full throttle.

So here’s the thing. As fond as I am of reading so many things at the same time — and, yes, I can keep them all straight in my head, which is the questions most non-compulsive readers always seem to ask me when we talk about reading — I seriously don’t think the multi-tasking component inherent in this activity is serving me well. We all know by now that the idea of actually achieving greater efficiency through multi-tasking is just a sham. What’s more, the constant low-wattage anxiety of continually juggling multiple unfinished projects (AKA books in this instance) no doubt keeps me in a continual state of cortisol-inducing cardio-vascular stress à la Robert Sapolsky’s Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers. (And, to add insult to injury, with all these books on the go, I find I barely have enough time to maintain my Netflix addiction as well!)

Can I read a single book at a time? What would that feel like, I wonder? I dunno, but maybe I’ll give it a try. It couldn’t possibly stress me out more than reading 13 at once, after all. Could it?

But which one to start with? What’ll I do with the other 12? Uh-o, my pulse is starting to race again…

I’ll keep you posted.

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7 Comments

  1. Tom Marshall says:

    Old books, new books, electronic books, and audio books; I enjoy them all.

  2. bronxboy55 says:

    I almost always have three or four books going at once. When I’m forced to explain it, I say it’s like eating. I don’t finish all the spaghetti, then all the bread, then all the salad. I take bites of each, alternating from one to the next. That way, they all remain fresh and interesting. For a little while, anyway.

  3. […] end up before finding themselves heading either back to the library or onto my nightstand (see also My Reading “Problem” blog over at The Gooseyard). Where pens and sales flyers seem to meet, mingle and procreate at an […]

  4. Ohdeerestme says:

    A single book at a time?!?! How odd… 😉 Welcome back.

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