I’ve got way too many books on my currently-reading list. Not that that’s a bad thing. Well, it’s just that once I reach around six or so books that I’m trying to read at once, I start to feel sort of shifty. Just as “multi-tasking,” all the rage in HR circles, isn’t really possible, so do I sometimes wonder that I’m not even taking turns with all the books on my list at any given time. In reality, I probably just am currently refusing to remove at least one or two neglected titles because that might mean they won’t get back on for another year or more, and we can’t have that.
I suppose, though, one saving grace is that at least three of them are long-term reads and won’t be off this list for a long while – on purpose. Plus I’m nearly finished with one.
That means six remain, though, which still leaves me hovering around my uneasy number, which in turn translates to all day tomorrow reading. Now, this isn’t solely because I want to crank out the finish-line moments, but rather a result of the past week in which I really have had slim chances to stick my nose into a book, and have fallen asleep or turned away most nights when trying. Some weeks are just like that, you know? Not only the time factor – this is an issue for most readers. But that icky state of being in which you pick up a book or even drag it all over the house as you keep doing other things in prep for your moment when you can curl up in a corner.
Fortunately for me, this week it hasn’t been so related to what I have complained of in the past, i.e. basically lacking the will to read: I pick up a book or even prep an area to sit down, and end up letting my plan fall by the wayside because I really just don’t want to engage. Instead, I get interrupted at lunch, and actually allow it in many instances, because even though I’ve been an introvert most of my life, this doesn’t mean I want to be alone 24/7. Indeed, I have never wanted that. However, this CV-19 insanity has torn apart the fabric of social connections, leaving many of us with reduced contact. Therefore I often find myself wanting to read but also craving social interaction and getting it when I can.
But this thing about spending tomorrow reading – who knows if that will happen? It would be nice but the reality is I have difficulty sitting still for long periods. It wasn’t until recent years that I could actually watch a movie at the cinema without falling asleep, because typically I would have been walking around doing things at home while a movie played. So reading a book? My secret is that I sometimes walk around as I do it, although that kind of gets in the way of running my finger across the words—another little thing I discovered long ago that helps me read faster; I think it has something to do with the brain seeing the key portions of words and sentences without one actually having to read them in their entirety. I think I may have just made that up, but I’m not really sure.
I do read more deliberately at times, though, and aloud, particularly with dense reading, or else I get caught up looking at the page edges and thinking of something a professor told us about them from the olden days, which goes something like this: The pages of brand spanking-new books (made by hand) used to be folded together, so the weighty work of having lots of books on display was compounded by the need to actually read them – company could tell if you’d done that or not by whether the foredges, head and tail were sliced apart, leaving them with a wavy, uneven look. So posh people used to direct their servants to go through the books and slice each page open, and no one was the wiser…maybe. I suspect there was an unspoken awareness that many people did this, but today the look apparently has some fans because not a few books’ pages mimic this style. I personally like it quite a lot, so if a book has it I might sometimes stare at it for longish periods.
And then there’s the sniffing. Some people have joked about my predilection toward glue, but that’s just a vicious lie. I also love the smell of peaches and bananas. And vanilla candles. And if it’s one of those fabulous new sort of magazines that started out helping people to live a more hygge life or catering to paper lovers but now sadly have become cash cows, well, they often have those lovely glossy pages that smell of lavender. Or very thick and heavy leaves with a grainy feel and that make an equally lovely, stiff-sounding noise when you flip through.
OK, but it’s not always distraction that pulls me away. For instance, I’m currently researching for two different projects (actually three, but one is on the shelf at the moment and it’s got some of the same research material as one of the remaining two, so I’m not falling as behind as I could be), so some of my reading is online or in books I look through only for particular information. I also sometimes get a little overwhelmed because I have a few different angles to examine and occasionally go back and forth, especially if I’ve found exciting information that works for more than one angle. In these cases I have found I just put everything back and leave it all alone for at least one or two days. I’m not sure it’s some super wise technique, but even if it is, I didn’t set out to do it in some informed fashion; really it was more a coping mechanism that just happened.
In other instances I go back to that teaching concept of “the right book at the right time,” an idea that I know many can relate to. You want to read but nothing is doing it for you and you act all shiftless and people get tired of seeing you mope around the house, or stare into space for long periods. Believe it or not, what often helps me snap out of this funk is a young adult book. YA has rescued me so many times that now, when I feel that wishy-washy “I don’t know what to read,” the first thing I go for is a teen book to see if we just can’t get past this moment of drag. Ygraine the Brave (Cornelia Funke); Company of Fools (Deborah Ellis); Emil and the Detectives (Erik Kästner) and The Midwife’s Tale (Sam Thomas) are some that have told me a great story while relaxing my mind, putting it at ease and giving it a little rest.
Of course there is the exact opposite problem in that when I’m reading an amazingly fantastic, wonderful, gripping book (e.g. A Suitable Boy), I don’t want to hear from anyone. I vaguely recall Vikram Seth telling an interviewer once that when he’s on a reading binge, he “scowls at people who talk to [him],” waiting impatiently for them to finish so he can put his eyes back on the page. This is so totally me in these moments I almost can’t believe I’m the same person as the one described in the paragraphs above. These, ahhh, these are the books I have in mind when I talk about what makes a great book and ones that certainly retain a place on my bookshelves so I can see them as I go by. I dust them lovingly and take in the covers (if they are wonderful) and tell anyone who will listen they have to read this book. Some of these titles I buy repeatedly because they have a new or different cover (I love foreign covers), or just so I can give them away. Of course, I don’t have the money to be doing this quite as much as I would like to, but some books circulate a lot so I see them in thrift stores and find myself following a pattern: buy, distribute, buy distribute. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Currently I find myself somewhere in the middle of this reading geography, which is a very good thing because, even though I still need to do a few hours’ worth of hard labor to wear me down enough to sit still for an hour or so, it’s at least a break from one pole or the other. I also have been doing a ton of cleaning, so I’m somewhat well-positioned for reading and/or note taking as I’ve managed to eliminate the chaos that defined my living room for a week or so, and which ordinarily distracts the heck out of me.
I think what I will try to do, is just work on the books on my currently-reading list, the ones pictured at the top of the page, and just pretend no other books exist. This can be a whopper of a task because no matter where I go in my house I’m surrounded by books, and something always catches my eye, setting off the internal oooooooooh. But I’ve set myself to these books, and at least two of them are “right book, right time” reads. Plus, I chatted with someone today who mentioned a work that appears to be one that would fit in quite well with my research. It’s a bit pricey, so it’s just going to have to wait, but I’ve requested it from Inter Library Loan. So, as if I were reminding myself of some small exercise in order to move forward, I made the request, told myself it’s done and that there’s nothing more for it now but to wait. So that book checked on my list – I’m a total list maker – and my mind is yet a bit calmer.
When I can go from Not that that’s a bad thing to And that’s a good thing, well, this just may end the day as a very successful one.
I found a rather intriguing brief article and video about the pages I
speak of above, which I have learned are referred to as “deckle edged.”