Friday, November 27, 2009

Do we read fewer books?

Are you suffering from reader’s block?
UK publishers launch 116,000 titles a year. I seem to trip over most of them on the way to the loo

Sathnam Sanghera

Times 26 November 2009

Untitled Books, the rather cool literary website, got in touch the other day asking whether I’d like to contribute 200 words or so to a feature that it was compiling on the literary highlights of 2009. I said I would, but never got around to doing so. In part because, when I sat down and thought about it, I realised that two of the three books I enjoyed most this year — One Day by David Nicholls, In Other Rooms by Daniyal Mueenuddin, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz — weren’t actually published in 2009. But mainly because, when I sat down and thought about it, I realised that I’ve actually read only three books for pleasure this year.

It’s difficult to explain just how bewildering this development feels. Every two weeks throughout my childhood, my father, though illiterate himself, walked me more than a mile to the nearest library so that I could borrow four books. I studied English literature at university, reading, or pretending to read, several books a week. I became a writer and have been going through titles at a similar rate most of my adult life. But it has now been three months since I picked up a novel. What the hell is going on?

Seeking reassurance online, I found it in the form of a reference to “reader’s block” on urbandictionary.com (“when you cannot, for the life of you, pick up a book and read it”); an article in The Daily Telegraph in 2008 headlined “What I Never Got Round to Reading on My Summer Holiday”, in which people such as Maude Hillingdon, the hostess and fundraiser, explains why they hadn’t got round to finishing various titles (“I will always treasure my Anthology of New Zealand Love Poetry. I used it to beat out the forest fire that engulfed our holiday log cabin. Sadly, it is now charred and illegible”); research from 2007, which showed that one Briton in four has not read a book in the past year; and the news that despite the increasing amount of money we spend on books, the amount of time we spend reading books is actually decreasing.

Also, various public figures, intellectuals even, have at various points admitted to forms of reader’s block: Griff Rhys Jones complaining about it in The Times in 1989 (“I am a victim of three-minute culture and the review pages. I cannot get stuck in”); Lionel Shriver remarking more recently that she experienced it after reviewing too many books that she wouldn’t have finished if she didn’t have to (“I get sick of the printed word, and go on strike. Late at night, all I want to do is watch box-set recordings of Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters back to back”); Joanne Harris saying that she went through six months of it after judging two literary prizes; and Howard Jacobson admitting that he got it on being given a load of books to read in preparation for Start the Week on BBC Radio 4.

However, unlike many of these celebrity sufferers, I’m finding it difficult to isolate a clear cause. I went through a period of being unable to read books after university, but there was a simple explanation that time (I associated books with the torture of work and the poverty and tedium of student life) and there was a simple solution (after 12 months I immersed myself in a book that would never have got on to a Cambridge reading list: Man and Boy, the cloying, sentimental but nevertheless hugely enjoyable novel by Tony Parsons).

But now there are all sorts of things behind the aversion: UK publishers apparently launch 116,000 titles a year and I feel that I am sent most of them and I hate tripping over the damned things on the way to the loo; readers need to imagine that they have discovered books for themselves, but when you write one and end up on the literary circuit you get recommended a book every other second, which leads to a kind of paralysis; books remind me of book-writing, a process I find painful, isolating, stressful and difficult, and which I resent because it often means losing contact with friends for months, if not years, as they finish their tomes; my working life involves a large amount of reading, and staring at text is the last thing I want to do at night; and, let’s face it, a large proportion of the zillions of books out there aren’t actually very good.

Also, this time I’ve struggled to find a solution. I’ve tried reading short stories, but as much as I enjoyed the first two in Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay, I haven’t got around to finishing it. I’ve tried re-reading an old favourite, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, only to discover it wasn’t as good as I remember. I’ve also tried titles that are variously unliterary (My Shit Life So Far by Frankie Boyle), poetic (The Thing in the Gap Stone Stile by Alice Oswald), non-fictional (The Making of Modern Britain: From Queen Victoria to V.E. Day by Andrew Marr), photographic (The Family of Man by Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg), biographical (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama), and economic (Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner), but with no lasting improvement.

And after considerable angst, I’ve begun to wonder whether this reader’s block might be more than a phase. I realise that the thought of giving up on books will strike most readers as anathema. It is notable that all the advice on the subject of reader’s block — such as the article I came across, which asserted that “the condition lifts as mysteriously as it arrives, but not before giving the victim a glimpse of how dreadful life would be without books” — stress that it is a temporary thing. And, frankly, I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to face up to the possibility if I hadn’t come across a brilliant, elegant piece from 2000 on the subject by Geoff Dyer, one of my favourite writers from my reading days, in which he admitted that he found it “increasingly difficult to read”.

“This year I read fewer books than last year; last year I read fewer than the year before; the year before I read fewer than the year before that,” he began. “On a trip to the Bahamas recently I regularly stopped myself reading because, whereas I could read a book anywhere, this was the only time I was likely to see sea so turquoise, sand so pink . . . Somewhat grandly, I call this the Mir syndrome after the cosmonaut who said that he didn’t read a page of the book that he’d taken to the space station because his spare moments were better spent gazing out of the window.”

Or to put it less elegantly: books have saved me, defined me, opened up a life full of exciting relationships and experiences, and now that I have that life, for a period at least, I want to live it, instead of forever having my nose stuck behind a book.sathnam@thetimes.co.uk

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good day !.
might , perhaps curious to know how one can make real money .
There is no initial capital needed You may start to get income with as small sum of money as 20-100 dollars.

AimTrust is what you need
The company represents an offshore structure with advanced asset management technologies in production and delivery of pipes for oil and gas.

Its head office is in Panama with offices around the world.
Do you want to become really rich in short time?
That`s your chance That`s what you wish in the long run!

I`m happy and lucky, I started to take up income with the help of this company,
and I invite you to do the same. It`s all about how to choose a correct partner who uses your savings in a right way - that`s AimTrust!.
I earn US$2,000 per day, and my first deposit was 1 grand only!
It`s easy to get involved , just click this link http://mebigegyb.o-f.com/iqijes.html
and lucky you`re! Let`s take this option together to become rich

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi !.
You re, I guess , perhaps curious to know how one can collect a huge starting capital .
There is no need to invest much at first. You may commense to get income with as small sum of money as 20-100 dollars.

AimTrust is what you need
The company incorporates an offshore structure with advanced asset management technologies in production and delivery of pipes for oil and gas.

It is based in Panama with affiliates everywhere: In USA, Canada, Cyprus.
Do you want to become an affluent person?
That`s your chance That`s what you desire!

I feel good, I began to take up income with the help of this company,
and I invite you to do the same. If it gets down to choose a correct companion utilizes your funds in a right way - that`s AimTrust!.
I earn US$2,000 per day, and my first investment was 500 dollars only!
It`s easy to get involved , just click this link http://uqivebejej.freewebportal.com/yjiqum.html
and lucky you`re! Let`s take this option together to become rich

6:46 PM  
Blogger Coach Factory said...

kate spade handbags, prada outlet, nike air max, louis vuitton, nike air max, louis vuitton outlet online, burberry outlet online, burberry outlet online, tiffany and co jewelry, michael kors outlet, gucci handbags, tory burch outlet, louis vuitton outlet, chanel handbags, jordan shoes, longchamp outlet online, nike shoes, louboutin shoes, red bottom shoes, coach outlet store online, kate spade outlet online, polo ralph lauren outlet, oakley vault, coach outlet, prada handbags, coach purses, louis vuitton handbags, longchamp handbags, christian louboutin outlet, oakley sunglasses, cheap oakley sunglasses, michael kors outlet online, michael kors outlet online, louis vuitton outlet, polo ralph lauren, christian louboutin shoes, michael kors outlet online, ray ban outlet, nike free, longchamp outlet, michael kors outlet store, michael kors outlet online, coach outlet, true religion, ray ban sunglasses

3:04 AM  
Blogger Coach Factory said...

abercrombie and fitch, longchamp pas cher, north face, vans pas cher, nike free, nike air max, longchamp, tn pas cher, hollister, air max pas cher, michael kors canada, chaussure louboutin, oakley pas cher, sac vanessa bruno, ray ban uk, louis vuitton uk, hollister, new balance pas cher, lululemon, nike free pas cher, north face pas cher, scarpe hogan, nike trainers, air max, nike roshe, ralph lauren pas cher, barbour, nike huarache, burberry pas cher, guess pas cher, nike air max, true religion outlet, longchamp, lacoste pas cher, sac michael kors, ralph lauren, louis vuitton pas cher, michael kors uk, nike blazer pas cher, mulberry, nike air force, air jordan, hermes pas cher, louis vuitton, nike roshe run, timberland, sac louis vuitton, ray ban pas cher, converse pas cher, true religion outlet

3:05 AM  
Blogger Coach Factory said...

herve leger, soccer jerseys, uggs outlet, jimmy choo shoes, lululemon outlet, nfl jerseys, canada goose pas cher, vans outlet, soccer shoes, roshe run, valentino shoes, moncler, rolex watches, chi flat iron, uggs on sale, canada goose, north face outlet, ghd, new balance outlet, north face jackets, mcm handbags, ugg soldes, moncler, canada goose uk, mont blanc pens, beats headphones, canada goose outlet, celine handbags, instyler ionic styler, ferragamo shoes, ugg boots, bottega veneta, ugg, moncler outlet, abercrombie and fitch, ugg outlet, wedding dresses, mac cosmetics, birkin bag, reebok outlet, canada goose outlet, insanity workout, moncler, giuseppe zanotti, asics shoes, hollister, canada goose outlet, babyliss pro, marc jacobs outlet, p90x workout

3:06 AM  
Blogger cai huanglin said...

caihuanglin20150410
ray ban uk
michael kors outlet
mont blanc pens
true religion
replica watches
pandara jewelry
michael kors
louis vuitton outlet stores
michael kors handbags
jordan 6
chanel handbags
ray ban sunglasses outlet
louis vuitton
replica rolex watches
jrodan retro
oakley sunglasses outlet
ray ban sunglasses uk
abercrombie store
fitflops
fitflop footwear
coach outlet
chanel outlet
chi flat iron
coach factory outlet
air max 2015
michael kors handbags
coach factory outlet online
coach outlet store online
coach outlet
michael kors handbags
retro jordans
michael kors outlet
polo ralph lauren home
hollister clothing store
ray ban wayfarer
coach factory outlet
jeremy scott adidas
polarized sunglasses
oakley sunglasses
louis vuitton outlet

4:00 AM  
Blogger Taibai Li said...

huangqihang0602cheap oakleys
michael kors outlet online
soccer jerseys
ray bans
air max 90
hollister clothing store
oakley sunglasses
michael kors outlet
toms shoes
coach outlet
cheap oakley sunglasses
abercrombie
oakley sunglasses
tory burch handbags
tory burch outlet
tory burch outlet online
coach outlet store online
chanel outlet
true religion outlet
kate spade outlet
pandora jewelry
burberry scarf
polo ralph lauren
michael kors bag
mont blanc pens
fitflops outlet
chanel bags
prada outlet
michael kors
michael kors outlet online
michael kors outlet
kate spade uk
kate spade outlet online
coach outlet online
gucci outlet online
pandora outlet
ralph lauren uk
ray ban glasses
kate spade
q

10:07 AM  
Blogger Lili Wang said...

20150720wanglili
michael kors handbags
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet online
juicy couture handbags
polo ralph lauren
polo outlet
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet online
pandora jewelry
pandora rings
reb christian louboutin
christian louboutin shoes
jordan retro 11
jordan 11s
jordan shoes
air jordan shoes
jordan shoes
new jordans
jordan retro 11
air jordan retro
oakley sunglasses
fake oakley sunglasses
cheap oakley sunglasses
oakley sunglasses
oakley vault
cheap oakley sunglasses
cheap oakleys
cheap lebron james shoes
kids lebron james shoes
lebron james shoes 2015
lebron 11

10:24 AM  
Blogger chenlina said...

chenlina20151206
hollister co
ugg boots on sale
uggs outlet
ugg boots
replica watches
running shoes
louis vuitton handbags
canada goose jackets
uggs outlet
hollister co,hollister jeans,hollister.com,hollister ca
michael kors outlet
abercrombie kids
prada handbags
lebron 11
timberland outlet
the north face outlet
official coach factory outlet
ugg slippers
ugg boots outlet
louis vuitton outlet stores
uggs on sale
cheap air max
michael kors outlet
coach outlet online
ugg clearance
ugg sale
coach factory outlet
louis vuitton handbags
louis vuitton handbags
jordan concords
kids uggs on sale
the north face
canada goose outlet
michael kors outlet online
timberland outlet
ugg sale
ugg boots on sale
abercrombie kids
uggs outlet
adidas uk
as

9:48 AM  
Blogger Nike Free said...

coach sale
coach outlet store
michael kors purses
michael kors handbags
michael kors bracelet
michael kors sale
michael kors uk
macys michael kors
jordan shoes
jordans for sale
kobe shoes
kobe 9
nike air max 2016
cheap nike air max
nike free run womens
nike free 4.0
christian louboutin men
christian louboutin boots
mbt shoes online
mbt shoes sale
fitflops shoes
fitflops sale
Nike Air Huaraches
Kobe 9 Elite
christian louboutin sale
louboutin outlet
cheap jordan shoes
jordans 2016
Jordan 5 fire red
Jordan Retro 8 Concord

6:14 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home