Monday, 13 October 2014

On reading burnout, or book fatigue

A small portion of the to-read pile...

It’s finally happened: I am suffering what I can only define as some sort of reading burnout. The absolute exhaustion that results from even thinking about the amount of books I want to read, and how I can ever hope to work through my to-read list, has started to become stressful. These days, it’s a relief if I start a book and it’s bad, because that means I can cross it off the list, and move quickly on to the next one. I’m reading three books at the same time right now, and I’m not sure why: because I want to balance out different types of books, different reasons for reading? Or because I’m not really satisfied with any of them?

I’ve written previously about the perils of book blogging and the race to read new books first, and the various difficulties involved in trying to review books as honestly as possible, but this is something else again. It’s more about trying to reconcile my desire to read as extensively as I possibly can with reality: I can’t read non-stop, I can’t ever know or understand everything, I can’t read every book before everyone else, and I have to be able to make time for other things. Choosing the next book is always a stressful task, one dogged by various fears – that I should be reading something ‘better’ or more worthy, that by choosing this one I might be missing out on something else that’s brilliant, that I lack the ability or knowledge to analyse the text properly.

I guess the crux of the matter is that I want to find books that are right for me, whether new or old, revered or unknown, trashy or intellectual. And I think that takes a bit of time and work and getting to know oneself as a reader. In the past few years, as I’ve established this blog, I have had a bit of a scattergun approach - reading loads of new releases, mainly, and not paying enough attention to whether they have much merit beyond newness.

Since I wrote this post last year, I think I’m becoming better at ignoring new and forthcoming releases if I think they will be of little, or even just mild, interest to me. It’s a slow process, though. I’ve also learned to (mostly) ignore books loudly compared to other, better books – the comparisons are often inaccurate and sometimes they’re completely and utterly irrelevant. (Some of the books I’ve seen described as ‘the next Gone Girl’ are so totally unlike Gone Girl in every way that it’s actually pretty hilarious.)

There are other concerns at work here too. I want to do more writing of my own, making time to write stories and other pieces rather than just reviews. I want to take some time away from concentrating solely on reading fiction; I want to learn about critical theory, I want to learn how to code, and I want to watch more films, and maybe even watch some of the 9000 TV shows that have completely passed me by over the past few years – and I want to write more about these things, too. And at the same time, I want to read more non-fiction and essay collections. At the same time, I want to read more translated fiction and experimental fiction. At the same time, I want to read novels by women from the 80s and 90s which were then considered significant but have now fallen into near-obscurity. At the same time, I want to keep reading new releases and being the first to find exciting new voices. At the same time, I want to continue making time for books I find comforting and entertaining, even if they have little literary merit. At the same time, I worry I haven’t read enough classics and should be pointing my reading energy in that direction. At the same time, coming full circle, I want to learn to be a better critic, a better reviewer, a better editor. I want to be (and read) a million things simultaneously and feel like I am letting myself down by not achieving this, even though it's impossible.

In the past few months I’ve noticed myself moving away from reading books on my Kindle and buying a lot of physical books. In some cases this has been a necessity: some of the books I've been trying to track down aren’t available in ebook format. It's also, admittedly, informed by the romantic/nostalgic notion of carting a battered old paperback around. But I can’t help but think there is some subtext here about trying to impose some order on the chaos of my ever-growing to-read list – making it a physical thing to be conquered rather than an endless, formless scroll of Kindle categories – and harking back to a simpler time, when I didn’t have this need-to-read-EVERYTHING problem, and having several hundred ebooks waiting to be read wasn’t even possible.

October is going to be a really busy month, and I’m going to try and concentrate less on reading as much as possible, more on getting other things done. I need to write up a review of Jonas Karlsson’s The Room (it’s really, really good), and finish those three books, and after that this blog might be quieter for a month or so. I’ve also started a Tumblr for assorted notes, links and pieces of writing about topics other than books. Hopefully, once I’ve got some of these worries out of my system, I’ll have a clearer picture of exactly where it is I want to go as a reader and a reviewer.

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1 comment:

  1. A good idea would be to re-read something you love, strictly for pleasure. And who knows, maybe you'll find new aspects of it to blog about. It's always bad when you make things compulsory in your head.