I said yesterday that I was planning on writing a blog about books today, thinking that I would finish reading The Sword of the Lictor and I could write my thoughts so far on Gene Wolfe’s (thirty year old) four-part novel The Book of the New Sun (Sword is book three). Instead, I spent today playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii with my sister. Empirical proof that video games are stunting literature. Instead, I will say something about the act of reading itself, but quickly because it’s Christmas Eve and we’re going out in half an hour or so.
In the academic year 2009-2010 I took a year out, meaning that I thought I would find a job and earn some money to pay for my DPhil. This happened eventually (March 2010) but from late October when I got back from Greece (and the period from July to September before I went to Greece) I was unemployed, and I did a lot of reading. After watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince I thought it was about time that I read all of the Harry Potter books so that I didn’t find out the ending through the films. I’m glad I did that, because the end of Deathly Hallows is so much better in my imagination than it was on-screen.
I didn’t read a lot as an undergraduate or Master’s student. I’m not really sure why this is, and it might not actually be true. I can certainly remember having to give up on Claudius the God as I couldn’t cope with studying early Imperial Roman history then going home to read some more about early Imperial Roman history – although curiously I didn’t have this problem with I, Claudius, probably because it is really good. Similarly, now that I am a DPhil student and my work days are much better organized, I find it difficult reading in the evenings when I have spent all day doing so for work. I don’t think this is such a bad thing as I think it’s because I like what I read during the day too, but my leisure time has become more television/iPlayer based than reading.
In 2010 I decided to try to read 52 books (that’s about one a week!), which is far more than I would usually manage. It was more than I managed in 2010 as well (44 was the final count) although I did manage 52 short stories. If you look at the statistics which I gathered, however, you see that I was fine up until I went back to university – hence the theory that it is working with reading all day that makes me unable (or unwilling) to do so for leisure. Then again, I stare at a computer all day for work and seem perfectly happy to do so for leisure as well. If I were to take an objective view of the process, I would probably suggest that it is because I think of reading as a challenge, rather than something I do for pleasure, and I have added a lot of rules to it in order to track my reading more thoroughly and take the aforementioned statistics.
After reading the Harry Potter books, in the start of 2011 I read A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (arguably the original version of the idea which inspired Harry Potter). I resisted reading The Tombs of Atuan, the second of the Earthsea books, immediately afterwards as I felt that I had rushed the Potter books, and reading them one after the other in a relatively short space of time has slightly spoilt them. In the end I wound up reading the Earthsea books alternately with other books, meaning that I was still through the series in a few months, but that they don’t run into one another (then again, the Earthsea books are much more distinguishable from one another than the Potters). This became one of my first rules – don’t read books of a series (also: by the same author) next to one another. Hence not-yet having finished The Book of the New Sun despite beginning it last July (I think). It became much more complicated when I was reading several series in tandem, which is probably the real reason why I haven’t finished New Sun or Le Guin’s Ekumen Cycle; I like a variety of authors in my yearly lists, even if there are those who crop up every year (like Philip K Dick, for example).
The 52 books in a year is a bit of a silly challenge. I relies on the notion that a week is a good length of time to devote to a book, which is sometimes true, but if I’m reading books 400 pages long that’s [lots] of pages a day when I’m already reading [lots and lots] of pages a day for work. It stems, of course, from an inbuilt desire to READ ALL [most] OF THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD which would collapse if I really knew what all the books were like (not very good). Plus it’s nice to have a challenge – I’ve considered trying to do a year where I only read books which I already own, but then I couldn’t read any new books (i.e. newly published rather than newly owned). I just need to consider a reasonable number. And, to be honest, I need to read more. This year I’ve managed about fifteen books. Worse still, I’ve only managed about twenty short stories, and they are short! I am a tiny bit ashamed of this.