The reading blues…

A couple of times recently, I’ve noticed people (principally reviewers, I should note) saying that they’re suffering from the reading blues. Well, I’ve been going through exactly the same thing for the last month or two – apart from the books I’ve been asked to review I haven’t, until very recently, actually picked up a book just to read solely for pleasure. I’m still ploughing through a book of short stories by one of my favourite authors, HP Lovecraft – and I started reading it in mid-summer. This is very unlike me – I used to go through books at a frightening rate, reading a couple a week.

I’ve been wondering why I felt a slight ennui when it comes to reading for pleasure recently. Perhaps it’s simply because, on some days at least, I have trouble keeping my eyes open after working a 12-hour day and I just can’t bear the prospect of doing anyting other than going to sleep. Or it crossed my mind that, being a reviewer, you sometimes suffer from ‘book-fatigue’, that having read something all day and making notes about it, the idea that you want to read even more just to wind down is somehow just too unappealing. A third possibility was that it was just me.

So, to read that others have the same problem is heartening, in a way. My dad bequeathed to me a love of books and the written-word that I have carried with me ever since I was able to read (over forty years now and counting), and the thought that I have somehow become tired of them is quite appalling in my book. There are far too few people who read books these days, or so we are led to believe – and I certainly don’t want to join their ranks.

I guess, to an extent, it’s something about the fact that when I review a book I am not only looking at it from the point of view of whether it’s a good story or not, but also from a ‘meta’ aspect as well, ie. analysing the deeper constituents of what the author’s trying to do. Use of language and words, rhythms, the believability of characters and plot, and how it all flows together come into play here. It’s only one step removed from what I did in school when I studied English Literature A-level all those years ago; the only difference, I feel, is that at least I (mostly) get to choose the books I review and they’re all in genres I enjoy reading. I find that sometimes, even when reading ro relax, I default to my literary critic persona almost automatically.

A similar thing happened after my university course – it included a film-studies module. In it, we were taught how to ‘deconstruct’ films, looking at context, subtext, use of imagery, how the camera (angles, movement) was used to help tell the story, use of lighting to accentuate things, etc., etc. I enjoyed it immensely as it allowed me to look at favourite films with new eyes. After a while, however, I found that, whenever I saw a film, either on TV or in the cinema, I just instantly switched into ‘celluloid deconstructionist’ mode – and often it would spoil my enjoyment of the film. There were times indeed when I simply wished that I could either completely forget what I’d learnt or at the very least be able to switch it all off.

I do the same with a book, any book, although I am consciously aware that I am doing it and then I actively try to remember that I am now reading for the hell of it, not reviewing. I just want to read it, not decode the damn thing. So, in some measure, I’ve been avoiding reading books  that I don’t need to review for that reason, even if subconsciously. I have it deeply ingrained into my psyche that books are for enjoyment, and if anything that is likely to spoil that quality looms I make sure that I swerve away from it. Hence the recent bout of ‘reading blues’….

Just the other night, however, I picked up a book, just to read for pleasure, for the first time in months – Tim Lebbon’s The Thief of Broken Toys. I’m still fighting against that urge to read it as if I were doing a review, an urge which is incredibly annoying. I am NOT going to review the book (and that isn’t meant as a slight to Tim, btw) – I just want to enjoy it for what it is, a beautifully-told story. You have my permission to slap me if you ever see an in-depth review of it by me posted anywhere. Hopefully, I’ll start to come out of feeling those blues very soon as a consequence – no reader likes to feel this way. =D

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One Response to “The reading blues…”

  1. I’d argue that all writers read critically, whether a review is the intended end result or not. We’re all thieving magpies, not simply enjoying fiction for its own sake, but looking at what works and what doesn’t, seeing what we can learn and put to use for our own ends.
    Certainly I was writing reviews for my own use long before anyone ever asked me to write them formally and for the eyes of other people, and I expect to be doing so long after I stop publishing them.
    The real difference with reviews I think, is that reading books can come to seem like an obligation. The more successful you are the more the workload increases, and the less chance there is of keeping on top of things. That’s why I warn people asking to send me review copies that there’s no guarantee when or even if a review will appear, and so they send at their own risk. I’d rather the TBR pile was a sweet shop from which I can choose goodies at my leisure than a mountain I have absolutely no hope of ever scaling.
    Does that make any sense? Probably not, but it’s Friday and so it’s all to the good. Take care.

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