Drafts are piling up. At the moment, there are six of them, all in different stages of writing/editing. One of them is just a sentence long…
I’ve been away from the blog and the community for more than ten weeks now, and it’s harder than ever to come back to it. The plans and schedules for regular posting and reading/commenting on other people’s posts fell short. They started wilting as soon as I put them on paper.
I will obviously need more time before properly returning to blogging, but, in the meantime, since it’s August, I would like to try my best and take part in reading women writers in translation. I picked four books off of the shelf:
Mr Darwin’s Gardener. Kristina Carlson
Berlin lies in the East. Nellja Veremej
The Ant Heap. Margit Kaffka
The Vagabond. Colette
To manage at least two of these would be an achievement!
It seems that my aversion to reading literature is slowly fading away.
I’ve been thinking about this issue, about all the general dissatisfactions regarding my reading. To use Geoff Dyer’s words:
If reading heightens your responses, shapes your idea of the world, gives you a sense of the purpose of life, then it is not surprising if, over time, reading should come to play a proportionatelly smaller role in the context of the myriad possibilities it has opened up. [..] Of course there is more to learn, more to read, but whereas, when I was a teenager, each new book represented an almost overwhelming addition to what I knew and felt, each new book now adds a smaller increment to the sum of knowledge.
For the best part of my reading life, the main reason why I read literature was knowledge. I wanted to get to know the world, to learn as much as possible about a human being, to embrace a variety of perspectives and gain experience. I hunted for profound thoughts, searched for truth and principles, worked on developing my self-awareness, and hoped to gain some wisdom…
I realized that for the past few years I have been desperately trying to preserve the original strength of this twenty-years-standing reason for reading, that I have been refusing to acknowledge its recent irrelevance.
If I remember correctly, it was the summer of 2015 when I started complaining about how I had nothing left to learn. Of course, I didn’t mean literally nothing, but nothing that wouldn’t be ”a [relatively] small increment to the sum of knowledge” that I had… The aversion towards literature that I’ve been experiencing for the last three months had two main roots: a brain strain and the strongest feeling of the pointlessness of reading that I’ve ever felt.
Dissatisfaction with reading was very much connected to my striving to hold on to knowledge as the number one reason for reading. I am now fully aware that this needs to be changed if I’m to enjoy literature again. The best course of action would be to concentrate more on a different kind of knowledge. Not profound thoughts but style and descriptions, not a human being but the human being, not the truth but the landscape and the atmosphere, et cetera…
Also, I want to give my reading a little bit of direction. I miss that. (Sometimes I think about going back to university.) Acting upon a wish to get (better) acquainted with the literature of the countries outside of the Western Europe and the United States, I am setting on a journey around the world. As I wrote in my rough reading plan for this year, the countries of the former Soviet Union are as good a place to start as any.
From the Baltic countries, I will continue southwards to Ukraine, then southeast across the Caucasus, and then head straight east to the ”STANs”, with Russia as the final destination of this part of the journey.
Literature, more than any other thing in the world, was my sense-building tool, my way of maturing.
Still, it is strange (and a bit terrifying) how disconnected from myself I feel when I’m not reading for longer periods of time. It seems hard to remember my point of view, my thoughts and convictions.. it gets even harder to recollect why they are what they are, how they came to be, what was the process. My ground seems lost at such times. I’m left floating in the air like a faint cloud, dispersing slowly but steadily. That’s how it feels again, now.
Since the thought of living without being in touch with myself does not thrill me at all, I have to do something to stop this dispersion, have to gather myself back together… Which means I have to go back, revisit, reconnect with the books that had some particular significance in shaping my mind and in developing the sense of who I am.
In a way, all the books I have read in my life so far (or, at least, a great majority of them) played some part in the process of creating my identity. Many of them were important and beloved, but I absolutely cannot reread them all. After a couple of hours of hard thinking, the decision fell upon these titles:
Pippi Longstocking. Astrid Lindgren
Eagles Fly Early. Branko Ćopić
Pero Kvržica’s Gang. Mato Lovrak
The Sandman. E.T.A. Hoffmann
Little Women. Louisa May Alcott
Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austin
The Old Man and the Sea. Ernest Hemingway
Picture of Dorian Grey. Oscar Wilde
King Lear. William Shakespeare
Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë
The Red and the Black. Stendhal
The Outsider. Albert Camus
One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabriel García Márquez
Forsyte Saga. John Galsworthy
History of Philosophy. Boris Kalin
The Name of the Rose. Umberto Eco
To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf
Lanark. Alasdair Gray
New York Trilogy. Paul Auster
past seven years
Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi
Parade’s End. Ford Madox Ford
The Visit of the Royal Physician. Per Olov Enquist
During the first half of the reading day, I was under a mild pressure created by reappearing thoughts on ‘required’ speed and the number of books I ‘should’ be reading. Later, to my great relief, I managed to vanquish those obnoxious intruders and, consequently, read in wonderful tranquility, having an occasional cup of tea, black chocolate, fruits or cakes.
I have to admit I slept for six hours. I haven’t even tried to stay awake. To add to this ‘waste’, good three hours were lost because we had guests for lunch and I had to socialize. I hardly spoke and spent most of the time wondering if it would be all right to excuse myself.
Although I had this Readathon on my mind for a couple of days before it happened, I was too unwilling and too disinterested in making any preparations. Had I given it a thought I believe the whole experience would have been pleasanter and more fun. Also, I am a little bit sorry for not participating in mini-challenges (Book Spine Poetry, Book Tower, Quotable quotes, Shelfie), for not sharing the experience more actively with others. Everything I have mentioned so far (the lost time, the pressure, the exhaustion) had its role in the decision to keep myself away from the Readathon community. I wanted to just relax and be on my own with words. All things considered, I had a good time and I’m definitely planning to participate in the next one (scheduled for the April, 25th).
I’ve managed to read four and a half titles:
Moominvalley in November – had a perfect Autumn atmosphere, was pure delight and just confirmed my love for Tove Jansson;
Death: High Cost of Living and
Death: The Time of Your Life – were engaging but failed to overwhelm me;
Jane and Prudence – impossible to write about it since I am still not sure what to think of it. I do, however, know that I had enjoyed it;
The Taming of the Shrew – read half of it before, the other half during the event. What to say about Shakespeare? I’ll leave it for the next post.
General exhaustion and consequent difficulty to engage in (shall I say almost?) anything of substance fell heavily on me. Also, having this neglected blog constantly on my mind was of no help. I was (and still am, to a degree) in a state of annoyance and powerlessness – able just to watch myself spend my precious free hours on nothing. Dreadful..
Today, however, I shall do my best to put everything aside because the anticipated 24 hours of reading are due to start!
The original reading list has changed (as lists usually do). Some of the books have been read during the course of the past five months, others simply do not appeal to me at the moment. The new, shorter list looks like this:
Death: The High Cost of Living, Death: The Time of Your Life. Neil Gaiman
There are a lot of different reading challenges all over the book-blogging community. I once tried to participate in a read-along. It didn’t go well – I read, reread the book actually, but was too lazy, too reluctant to write. And it wasn’t really a read-along since I failed to share my thoughts with other fellow participants… Other time, I self-imposed a certain challenge. Didn’t go well either. Then I came to the conclusion that such things are not for me.
However, learning about Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon (thanks to Ana) I was very eager and even happy to rethink my conclusion… The more I’m thinking the more I like it, the more determined I am to join in. It seems tailored to suit me: a whole day dedicated to reading whatever one chooses and there’s no pressure on writing a review. Staying awake until the wee small hours will be tough for I tend to fall asleep very easily (I believe I would fall asleep even if my life would depend upon staying awake). But:
A challenge it is! and I cannot wait for the October 18th!
Of course, I made a small list of suitable books to choose from – somehow reading only one book during the whole readathon doesn’t sound much fun. Currently, the list is as follows:
Death: The High Cost of Living, Death: The Time of Your Life, The Ocean at the End of a Lane. Neil Gaiman
Moomins and the Great Flood. Tove Jansson
The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith
Witches. Roald Dahl
Charlotte’s Webb. E.B. White
Around the World in 80 Days. Jules Verne
The Wrong Box. R.L. Stevenson
High Rising. Angela Thirkell
Something Fresh, My Man Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse
Guards! Guards!/Wyrd Sisters/Equal Rites. Terry Pratchett
While I’m in such a good mood maybe I should give a more common type of a challenge a try – Read Scotland. Three reasons:
I have already read one book that could be counted in and, Smith and Stevenson are on the list for readathon so, achieving a Highlander level (5-8 books) in seven months period should not be difficult.
Being a sort of a Highlander sounds awesome.
I’m trying to be an active member of book blogging community.
Here is the list:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Muriel Spark
Lord Jim. Joseph Conrad
Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell
The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame
Miss Buncle’s Book. D.E. Stevenson
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. James Hogg
One day in late October, inspired by Manguel’s A Reading Diary (in which he writes about the favorite books he is re-reading, relating them to his personal life and also to current world events and circumstances) I made a list of heavy books, (meaning five hundred to thousand pages or more) patiently piling up on bookshelves for more than a decade, and resolved to read them, finally – one each month, in the course of a year.. I was never engaged in any self-imposed reading plan before, finding them incompatible with my personality and reading preferences. But, as I have said, the books I planned to read were the ones I wanted to read for many months/years and I thought I should give it a try. I thought the list would be motivational. But, since I am who I am, I added another twelve books to the list… And then twelve more…
Now, two months later, two problems have emerged:
I am under a mild pressure, feeling I HAVE TO read each and every one of the three books assigned for a certain month. I struggled, very often, to maintain my normal reading pace, fighting the dangers of what-happens-next kind of reading and simply trying to read comprehensively… What is worst, while reading the first book, there was always, somewhere in the back of my mind, a thought of the other two books – will I manage to get to them?… And, just to make things even more difficult, returning The Sleepy Hollow, I was unable to leave the library without a book so, in November, between a voluminous The People from Juvik, a demanding The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis and a refreshing Love in Cold Climate I somehow managed to read All the Pretty Horses (McCarthy was a delightful discovery, an author I intend to come back to joyfully).. Under the pressure.. I don’t want to feel like this next ten months!
I started to feel anxiety because of the ‘definiteness’ of the list. What have I done?, I ask myself. Why did I had to add another twelve and then twelve more books to the list that would have probably been a well-functioning reading plan, one that I wouldn’t have the urge to abandon? I was almost enslaved by my own list, feeling uncomfortable not only changing it (having newly acquired Kurkov instead of Bronte) but also rearranging it (moving War and Peace to February, or Quiet Flows the Don to January)? I should feel free to change it or rearrange it anytime I want!
It had to end. No questions about it. I realized, a year-long reading plan is too dispiriting and unsettling. I stuck to it for these two months and that is as long as my endurance could last. It doesn’t matter that I want to read all those books – I need to be free to choose when. As I have always been.
I should delete the Off the Bookshelf page since it serves no purpose anymore, but I won’t. The list is too pretty, nice to look at. I’ll leave it to be a reminder of this little experiment.